Farming

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Coveney 'needs to stop protecting elite farmers'

Originally from Austria, I came to Ireland in 1998 to take over a mountain farm of 150ha near Lough Talt in Sligo. My original plan was to put some of it into forestry and farm the remainder.

However, I was informed that forestry was not an option because the land was designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

As a result of this, I started to farm the land instead and bought my first sheep in 1999 with the intention of establishing a flock of 500 ewes. I built a sheep shed in 2001.

As the sheep flock started to grow, I applied for ewe quota but was turned down because I had a small share in a neighbouring commonage.

The only concession I got was in 2001, when I was allowed a lease quota for 18 ewes.

This leased quota actually came against me in 2003 because it disqualified me from the force majeure measure. So when my entitlements were established in 2003 they stood at €3.15/ha.

Since then, I have managed to get my entitlements up to €25/ha after an allocation from the National Reserve.

However, I am still short to the tune of over €12,000 per year, compared to if I had been given the opportunity to access quota that was true to my stocking rates at the time.

I had hoped that this round of CAP reforms would rectify the injustices of the last nine years.

The Commission's proposals could do this, but the proposal by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney of a tiny redistribution and his justification of maintaining the present system is one I have major issues with.

The insistence that farmers with high entitlements are productive farmers implies that those with low entitlements are not. This is an insult to farmers like myself.

The minister says that you can't compare the productivity of a lowland farm in Kilkenny to a mountain farm in Mayo, therefore, they shouldn't attract the same payment.

However, the mountain farm in Mayo probably has an SAC or NHA conservation order on it.

mixed signals

In recent years, I have National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers tell me I can't use a digger to make a safe access track up the mountain for the quad. I've been told I can't erect a fence and make a safe way around the perimeter.

So, on one hand we have the Department of the Environment preventing us from being productive, while, on the other hand, we have the Department of Agriculture telling us that because we are not productive we are not entitled to fair play.

I would dearly love to have the conservation designation lifted off my land. If this were to happen, I would be quite happy to forego any SFP. At least then I would have the option to plant some of it.

Compare the potential forestry premium of €370/ha to what Mr Coveney is offering.

Under his approximation model my payment would rise to, at best, €80/ha, and that wouldn't be until 2019.

The Commission is proposing a flat-rate payment of €270/ha.

Any attempt to allow some farmers maintain payments of say €500/ha is effectively robbing the rest of us of money we deserve just as much.

The €1.28bn that we hope to get in Pillar 1 belongs to everyone equally and the minister needs to stop trying to protect the elite.

Indo Farming