Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

DAs under spotlight in EU review

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Ireland's €1.6bn Less Favoured Areas scheme has been put under the spotlight in a mid-term review of the Rural Development Programme (RDP).

The Department of Agriculture has been warned that the scheme appears to be more of an income support to farmers than a way of improving the countryside and environment, which it is meant to be.

International consultants Indecon said the scheme was achieving its objectives of avoiding land abandonment and preventing the disintegration of farming communities by supporting 101,346 farms.

However, Indecon pointed out that there was only limited evidence available that the scheme was contributing to maintaining the countryside and improving the environment, which should be the focus of Axis 2 programmes.

"The number of holdings supported under this measure suggests that a large number of farm holdings in rural Ireland have been prevented from abandoning their holdings and communities," the report authors said.

"It is important to note that the scheme is largely an income support for farmers [although the level of support has been reduced from 2009]."

The consultants also said Less Favoured Areas measures "do not address the underlying viability of the farms and this raises issues regarding long-term sustainability".

Less Favoured Areas is the second biggest spend category in Axis 2 at more than €1.6bn, coming in behind REPS and Natura payments that cost more than €2.2bn.

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Meanwhile, the report contained several recommendations for the future operation of the RDP, including a need for better help for farmers to access markets and increase market share.

The consultants suggested creating stronger links with Bord Bia and other agencies to develop marketing, product innovation and other development supports.

Farmers applying for schemes should be required to submit more detailed and market-orientated business plans before they are approved for certain schemes, the report urged.

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