DAS changes 'may take up to five weeks'

Caitriona Murphy and Declan O'Brien

Final approval on changes to the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme (DAS) could take up to five weeks, Department of Agriculture officials have conceded.

Negotiations between Department of Agriculture staff and Commission representatives are continuing and both sides have denied that any serious difficulties have arisen in the talks.

In a statement issued this week, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said: "The position remains the same, the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is co-funded by the EU under the Rural Development Programme 2007/2013, [and] it is necessary to obtain the agreement of the EU Commission to any proposed changes.

"It should be noted that the proposed criteria may be subject to some changes following the conclusion of the discussions with the EU Commission."

Changes to the DAS were announced in last December's Budget.

These amounted to a funding cut of €30m, with the total spend being reduced from €220m to €190m.

The proposed alterations included stocking rate changes to a minimum stocking density of 0.3LU/ha for last year and 0.15LU/ha for this year. This year's density will be calculated over a 12-month calendar-year average and applicants must meet the 0.15LU/ha for six consecutive months.

The proposed new rules also included the stipulation that where a farmer's main holding is situated in a non-disadvantaged area and where the DAS land is situated more than 80km from the main holding, no aid would be paid on this land.

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However, the ICSA rural development chairman John Barron said his association would oppose any move on this element of the scheme.

"The progressive farmer, whose main holding is in a disadvantaged area should not suffer any cuts just because he has taken extra land in a non-disadvantaged area. This would be a penalty on enterprising farmers," Mr Barron said.

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