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Collective penalties proposed in new commonage rules

Controversial new rules proposed for commonages would see all shareholders in a commonage penalised if just one breaks the good farming practice rules.

Draft proposals in the pipeline from the Department of Agriculture will require what is known as 'collective agreement' by all commonage shareholders.

Under a collective agreement, each shareholder in the commonage will be issued with both their individual minimum and maximum stock numbers, but also the commonage minimum and maximum stock numbers.

The shareholders will be required to sign a document undertaking to adhere to both their individual and commonage stocking rates. However, if one or more shareholders reneges on the deal and flouts the rules on good agricultural environmental conditions (GAEC), all shareholders in the commonage will have penalties applied to their Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS) payment.

The collective agreement policy will also require farmers to work with a trained facilitator, who will most likely be a Teagasc or private agricultural consultant in the area.

The proposal has been tabled by Department of Agriculture officials following a review of the Commonage Framework Policy.

It is understood that Department officials plan to implement the new collective agreement within two years.

ICMSA farm services and environment chairman Patrick Rohan warned that the proposed policy would unfairly penalise farmers who were abiding by the rules.

"To get agreement among all shareholders in a commonage will be a sticking point," Mr Rohan maintained.

"There is a lot of rancour between shareholders in some commonages."

The new system would require some commonage shareholders to take up the slack of dormant shareholders who do not actively use their share.

For example, take a commonage with five shareholders and a minimum stock number of 500 sheep. If one shareholder did not put any sheep on the hill, the remaining four shareholders would have to ensure that they put more sheep on there to meet the minimum stocking rate. If the minimum stocking rate was not maintained, all five shareholders could be penalised a proportion of the DAS payment.

Similarly, if one shareholder put more than his allocated stock numbers on the hill and pushed the total stocking rate over the maximum allowed, all the shareholders could be penalised for his breach of the rules.

Indo Farming