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Mind-numbing CAP event took the pep out of my step

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Corncrake

Corncrake

Corncrake

I recently went into a Department of Agriculture information meeting about the new Common Agriculture Policy with a pep in my step. Over three hours later I left, only partially informed but mainly feeling dim and disappointed.

I hadn't been to anything like this in many years but, as I was pleased to become a joint herd owner last year, the other joint herd owner thought it would be a good idea if I went to find out exactly what was involved.

It could be that, if anything goes wrong with our Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) application, it will be half my fault. Or it could just be that two heads are better than one.

The first thing that struck me was the size of the crowd. The venue was the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny and I estimate that there were around 600 chairs out, with some 100 of these were filled.

Why so few?

Maybe because it was a Friday night heading into a long weekend. Or that people have not yet entered BPS mode? Or that all the scheme details are crystal clear?

Or maybe it is because most farmers in the area know that they are OK on greening (we were told that 90pc of farmers are green by definition) and either they are ineligible for, or totally frustrated with, GLAS.

Or some other reason entirely?

The men, and it was almost exclusively men, were neatly dressed. Unlike Mass, they congregated towards the front. Their faces were a mix of nervous anticipation and tiredness, it being a busy time of the year on the farm. Well-worn hands bearing the cuts and bumps of normal daily labour swelled in the unaccustomed heat.

After a brief introduction, it got underway.

Somewhat to my surprise and disappointment, there was no sense of trying to sell the new regime at an emotional level. The first topic was GLAS which, according to a handout, "aims to address the cross-cutting objectives of climate change, water quality and biodiversity." It is an exciting scheme on paper but this did not come across.

Soon after, I first heard the word PEAs. Later in the same presentation, peas were mentioned. The pronunciation was slightly different, the former pee-aas, the latter peez, as in mushy or marrowfat and, in this case, a common catch crop.

It turns out it is an acronym for Priority Environmental Assets and Actions and, according to the same handout, "all farmers with PEAs get first priority" to GLAS in Year One and subsequent years. Priority Assets include private Natura sites, commonages and high status water areas.

This situation conjured up an image of a Fr Ted-style brainstorming session when they were trying to come up with a term for these environmental assets.

The speakers may be so used to saying these terms and phrases that they trip off their tongues. I am not familiar with them but that does not mean I am dim.

And, yes, I understand that there can be a fine line between spelling things out too much and not spelling them out at all. But I must say that the presentation left me feeling as I was being patronised.

Then there were a few attempts at humour.

There is an action in GLAS in relation to traditional stone wall maintenance. We were shown a photo of a dry stone wall. There was a noxious weed in the foreground and nobody laughed when the speaker said they would ignore the noxious weed.

I think most farmers in this country would feel that there is more ragwort on the grass verges of the national roads than anywhere else. These areas are under the control of local councils, not farmers.

The underlying tone was one of distrust, i.e. that they know farmers are always trying to pull a fast one. When the reality is that the vast majority of farmers just want to go about their business, comply with the regulations and, yes, legitimately optimise how much money they can collect.

One of the few occasions that ears pricked up was at the mention of wild birds and the GLAS cction for farmland birds.

A number of species have been identified by the National Parks and Wildlife Service for urgent protection on farmland, including breeding waders, corncrake, hen harrier, grey partridge and, a bird that I am not familiar with, the twite.

Necks were craned to see the goldfinch photo and that of the chough. More pics would have been a welcome counterpoint to the oodles of facts and rules we were being hit with.

It would be easy to accept the neatly packaged message that the BPS and particularly GLAS is straightforward and going swimmingly well but the comments and questions from the floor told a different story.

Of course, we all have a great ability to hone in on what is relevant to ourselves and I have no doubt that farmers will continue to maximise their payments under the latest CAP regime.

I went to learn about greening and heard confirmation of what we need to do. So it wasn't a waste of time, just a boring lesson in cumbersome governance.

One speaker used the word scission. At this point I was lost but, from what I could gather, it is an actual term in the BPS.

Who came up with the idea of using a word that most people couldn't pronounce? I had to look it up myself to find out how it is spelled.

The only time I'd say I have ever heard it used is in relation to the intractable gulf between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

So, perhaps at the end of the day, it was an appropriate word for the setting, as it continues to exemplify the difficult relationship between Irish farmers and the bureaucratic layer of the Department of Agriculture.

afitzgerald@ independent.ie

Indo Farming