Hill farmers fear EU proposals to apply ‘strict protection’ to 10pc of land in the State under its biodiversity strategy would amount to ‘land sterilisation’.
Concerns over land designations dominated the INHFA AGM in Carrick-on-Shannon last week, where Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue also faced questions over his CAP, forestry and silage support scheme plans.
Former INHFA president Colm O’Donnell was among the most vocal opponents of new designations highlighting that hill farmers have been operating under their restrictions since 1997 and said they were imposed on farmers without “one debate” in the Dáil.
“We want to have the right and the ability and freedom of choice to farm our land. Strict protection would completely sterilise our land.
“If it’s a requirement for Ireland...put it on state land, but by god not on our land,” he said.
Current INHFA President Vincent Roddy highlighted that the people that will be most impacted by the designations will be farmers and rural communities and this is where the engagement must start.
“We are all willing to play our part in protecting and enhancing biodiversity,” he said. “But in doing this, we have to also make a living.
“The key is to find a way that we can do both. This is why we need the engagement. Imposing legislation without addressing these concerns will not work, as evidenced by the existing designations.”
Concerns were also raised at the meeting over the proposed results-based AECM scheme, which will replace GLAS next year. Roddy said there is “growing concern” with regard to the proposed results scorecard, which will play a major role in upland areas particularly.
“Farmers, especially those on commonages, are fearful and they have every right to be — because their score is dependent on the collective actions of everyone on the commonage. This is something we have to look at and the window is narrowing.”
Those concerns were echoed by a number of farmers who the Farming Independent spoke to at the meeting, with one warning that the new scheme had the potential to pit neighbouring farmers against each other.
Minister McConalogue said it was important that the new scheme reward those that do the most for the environment, adding that work is underway on the detail of the scheme within the Department at the moment.
“It’s important that we do get it right... it’s important that we engage with farmers on how it works, that’s a process that ongoing,” he said.
At the meeting, the Minister was praised for his commitment to introduce a silage support payment, however, concerns were raised over the absence of support for farmers who buy in their fodder.
“There are many farmers that are not in a position to make hay or silage and have to buy in their fodder — these farmers will need a support package and quite possibly with projections on meal price, many that got supports will also need further support this autumn,” Roddy said.