Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Minister yields on 2012 DAS stocking rate rules

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

A major concession on the rules governing stocking rates for the Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS) has been confirmed by the Department of Agriculture.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said he will relax the rules on higher DAS stocking rates for farmers who were part of an agri-environmental scheme last year.

It had been feared that commonage farmers, REPS and AEOS participants could lose their disadvantaged area payments this year because they did not meet the requirement to have 0.3 livestock units per hectare last year.

However, the rule changes announced by Minister Coveney mean these farmers can now meet the stocking rate criteria.

The minister also assured farmers that the €30m cut in DAS for this year, outlined in the Budget last December, would not involve any further cuts to DAS payment rates or any reduction in the maximum area payable (34ha).

Department officials are currently working on a new DAS proposal, which must be approved by Brussels before the scheme is cleared for co-funding by the EU. If this is accepted, every farmer whose stocking density was below 0.3lu/ha last year will be given the opportunity to apply for a derogation on the grounds that his stocking rate was a result of participating in an agri-environmental measure.

Farmers may also apply for a stocking rate derogation on force majeure grounds and the minister also hinted at special provisions for new entrants to farming.

Responding to questions at the IFA annual general meeting in Dublin last Wednesday, Minister Coveney also promised to include an appeals system for farmers on marginal land.

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This would allow farmers who could not carry more stock because of their land type to argue their case to be exempt from the 0.3lu/ha rule.

He also told farmers at the conference that where a farmer had land in both disadvantaged areas and non-disadvantaged areas, if the main farm or home farm was in a disadvantaged area, the farmer would get his full payment rate.

Other changes announced in the December Budget will remain unchanged in the proposal to Brussels.

These include the proposal that horses will no longer be eligible for the stocking density calculation, with the exception of equine breeding enterprises that make a contribution to the local economy.

IFA rural development chairman Flor McCarthy welcomed the minister's proposed changes as a "practical solution to practical problems for farmers".

It is estimated that the relaxation of the rules could increase the number of farmers remaining eligible for payment in 2012 by up to 3,000.

However, the ICSA president, Gabriel Gilmartin, said the proposal to reduce DAS payments to farmers with mixed holdings of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged land could open a minefield of unfair cases.

"This penalises the farmer with a farm that is 100pc disadvantaged but who has taken the initiative of renting non-disadvantaged land, usually in an effort to expand his herd or flock or ensure adequate winter fodder," he said.

He added that a farmers's main holding should be determined by where the herd number is established rather than by the size of the holding.

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