Hill farmers call for direct payments to be front-loaded

Picture: Ann Talbot
Picture: Ann Talbot
INHFA President Colm O'Donnell. Photo Brian Farrell

Front-loading of Pillar 1 payments and increased national exchequer backing for Pillar 2 were the primary demands made by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) at their National Rally held in Westport recently.

The hill farmer body claimed that the last CAP reforms had delivered just "minimal redistribution" in Pillar 1 supports and front-loaded payments on the first 20ha were required to ensure a more equitable distribution of supports.

The 500 farmers in attendance heard the INHFA call for a digressive flat-rate payment on all eligible lands above 20ha, with payments to individual applicants capped at €60,000.

The INHFA also called for the suggested Eco Scheme measure - which is part of Pillar 1 in the current CAP reform proposals - to be mandatory at both Member State and farmer level.

The Eco Scheme should account for 30pc of farmers' Pillar 1 payments, the meeting was told, and be paid at a flat-rate payment of €75/ha from 2020.

With regard to the make-up of the Eco Scheme, the INHFA is recommending that it should involve the measurement of each farm's carbon footprint and also provide for a suite of suitable actions for extensive and intensive farming systems.

The INHFA called on the Government to honour its commitment to provide additional funding and ensure the overall Pillar 2 pot exceeded €650m.

The organisation said an additional €80m should be targeted at the ANC scheme, with increased payments for lands with the highest level of constraint.

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A farm retirement scheme to help in generational renewal that starts at 60 and pays €400/week was also sought.

"These proposals, if implemented, will deliver better outcomes for the vast majority of farmers," said INHFA president Colm O'Donnell.

There was broad support for the capping of payments from the political representatives in attendance. Charlie McConalogue of Fianna Fáil and Independent MEP Marian Harkin said the €60,000 limit should be adopted.

Defining moment

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice described the CAP reforms as a "defining moment" for many smaller farms. He said targeting overall payments of €20,000 at holdings of 20-30ha had to be a priority to ensure the survival of these units.

Mr Fitzmaurice warned that making the west of Ireland a carbon sink for the rest of the country by planting large tracts of marginal land was not an approach that communities would accept.

Meanwhile, MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan claimed that the EU's priorities had "moved from a Common Agriculture Policy to a Common Defence Policy" following the recent migrant crisis which had led to the formation of 10,000-strong frontier protection force.

The Roscommon-based MEP admitted to being conflicted at suggestions of greater national government input into CAP policy.

Divesting more power from Brussels was generally a good idea, he said, but he cautioned that such a move could see a lot more farmers "losing out" because of decisions taken locally.

Marian Harkin told the meeting that granting national governments a greater say on CAP policy and funding may not be approved by the European Parliament.

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