Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Eligibility changes to slash SPS payments

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Thousands of farmers are facing reduced agri-environment payments because of changes to what is considered eligible land under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

Up to 50pc of some upland commonages have been excluded from SPS calculations because the areas were classed as 'under-grazed' by Department of Agriculture inspectors using EU guidelines.

Because farmers can usually stack or consolidate their SPS entitlements, the new designations do not affect the single farm payments in most cases.

However, because agri-environment payments can only be paid on lands which are deemed eligible under the SPS, the changes cut the acreage that those entering the new Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) can apply on.

Problems

The problems emerged during a recent Teagasc Biodiversity Conference in Wexford.

Commonages with growth that is more than shin deep have been deemed to be 'under-grazed' by Department inspectors and therefore ineligible ground, the conference was told.

While the average reduction is 7pc, some farmers on Donegal's Fanid peninsula face reductions of 50pc in their eligible comonage area.

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"A total disconnect is emerging between EU regulations governing the Single Payment System and agri-environment policy," warned Teagasc specialist Catherine Keena.

"If this problem isn't addressed, we'll end up eliminating the most valuable habitat land from agri-environment schemes," she said.

Ms Keena said the focus should be on returning land to good agricultural and environmental condition rather than excluding it.

The conference heard that farmers in the Burren could be facing cuts of more than 30pc to their single farm payment on upland areas.

A survey of over 100 farmers in the new Burren Farming for Conservation Programme showed a cut of around one third in the area of eligible upland, Dr Sharon Parr told the conference.

FAILURE

Meanwhile, the failure to increase the AEOS Natura payment from €75 to €150/ha has been slammed by the IFA.

IFA rural committee chairman Tom Turley said the decision was unacceptable and would result in around 6,000 farmers getting a lower payment than they expected when they joined the scheme.

"This decision, combined with cutbacks to the funding for AEOS 2, questions the commitment of Minister Coveney to the agri-environment scheme," Mr Turley claimed.

"Already the funding for the scheme [this year] had been halved and now farmers in designated areas are being left high and dry."

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