Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Review raises hopes of fresh Natura concession

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The campaign to secure a €150/ha payment on Natura land for farmers in AEOS took a further twist last week, with the Department of Agriculture promising another review of the issue.

The move follows a sit-in protest at Department headquarters in Dublin last Wednesday involving the chairmen of each of the Connacht counties and representatives from Donegal, as well as Tom Turley, the IFA rural development committee chairman, and hill committee chairman Tom Fadian.

The intervention of IFA president John Bryan late on Wednesday evening resulted in a three-hour meeting between the farmer representatives and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

In a statement issued by the Department, Minister Coveney said he would look again at the AEOS Natura payment in the context of the ongoing expenditure review, which is due to be completed at the end of July.

The minister said he would not make any commitment on the payment until the review was complete. He also explained that the EU Commission would have to approve the higher payment were it resubmitted to them at that stage.

It was unclear whether the decision to launch the sit-in in the Kildare Street offices had been cleared by IFA headquarters, but sources maintained that it had not.

When asked if the move had been a solo-run by west of Ireland farmers, an IFA spokesman said: "We're all in this together and the fight for concessions on this issue is being led by the president [John Bryan]."

An increase in the AEOS payment on Natura land from €75/ha to €150/ha has been sought by west of Ireland farmers since the scheme was launched.

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The Department initially said that they had applied to the Commission for clearance for the payment. However, last week Minister Coveney stated that an increase was no longer being sought.


During the meeting the IFA said that the virtual halving of the AEOS 2 budget, combined with delays in payments due last year, had led to farmers questioning the Government's commitment to the environment scheme.

"The Minister must implement the higher Natura payment of €150/ha to 6,000 AEOS farmers who have SAC land, as they joined the scheme in the expectation that this would be honoured," Mr Turley said.

He pointed out that under REPS, farmers with Natura lands received €242/ha in compensation for the restrictions with which they had to comply.

He said land owners with significant areas of commonage ground were frustrated because the restrictions remained in place, but the compensation appeared to be disappearing.

IFA hill committee chairman Tom Fadian said farmers in hill areas felt let down by the AEOS package and he warned that hill land would be abandoned if a proper agri-environment scheme was not put in place.

Mr Bryan urged the minister to work with his colleague, Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan, on a number of other issues raised by farmer delegation, including the review of the stocking rates laid down in the Commonage Framework Plan.

It also emerged that a derogation allowing the spreading of up to 30kg nitrogen on species-rich grassland has been agreed to by the Commission.

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