Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

DAS at risk of further cuts as budget proposal falls shy of €30m target

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Securing the €30m Budget savings from the total expenditure on the Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS) could prove a lot more contentious than was initially envisaged.

Funding for DAS was cut from €220m to €190m in the Budget. However, the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, stressed that the savings would be met by ironing out anomalies in the scheme and that payments to active farmers would not be badly hit.

The measures introduced included increasing the minimum stocking rate from 0.15LU/ha to 0.3LU/ha, increasing the minimum retention period for stock from three months to six months and excluding horses from stocking rate calculations.

In addition, farmers were excluded from claiming a DAS payment on lands 80km or more from their primary holding.

However, it has emerged that these measures will not make sufficient savings to hit the €30m target.

It is understood that a number of options are being considered, but any final package would have to be cleared by the EU Commission.

Increasing the minimum stocking rate again could be an option. However, this could be classed as a trade distorting coupled payment and may not be allowed by Brussels.

Other options likely to be considered are an across-the-board reduction in payments of 14pc, or a reduction in the maximum area that payments could be made on.

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Such a reduction, from a maximum of 45ha to the current level of 34ha, was introduced in the 2009 Budget. A 14pc cut in the maximum area would see the level fall to 29ha.

Meanwhile, the ICSA has expressed strong misgivings regarding the proposal to reduce the rate of payment for farmers with land in disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged areas.

"Many farmers, in the west of Ireland especially, who are farming on marginal land, and where there is very limited availability of good land, have tended to rent land further a-field and in some cases outside their own county. These progressive and hard-working individuals will be penalised by this proposal as the rented land is usually non-disadvantaged," said ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin.

"I am calling on the minister to reconsider these cases," he added.

The IFA has adopted a similar position, with association president John Bryan insisting that if a farmer's main holding is in a Disadvantaged Area, he/she should not be impacted by this new rule.

"Farmers in Disadvantaged Areas, in order to sustain their viability, have to be allowed to secure additional land in non-Disadvantaged Areas without penalty," he said.

"On the minimum stocking level, it is important that farmers in environmental schemes are not affected as stocking levels are already set out in their five-year plan.

"Also, farmers on marginal land must continue to be eligible if the stock carrying capacity of the land is limited."

The IFA president added: "With 13,000 farmers leaving REPS 3, it is vital that AEOS is available for all famers who want to continue with their agri-environmental plans.

"A new AEOS scheme must be introduced in early 2012."

Declan O'Brien

Indo Farming