Farmland's soil moisture levels and field size to determine future ANC status

  • 98pc of 'disadvantaged' land keeps ANC status
  • Over 2,000 townlands will now also have eligible land
  • Field sizes of less than 4ha considered a 'structural constraint'

  • Appeals committee will be set up for all farmers affected by changes to the Scheme

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Details of the 2019 Areas of Natural Constraint (previously Disadvantaged Areas) have been announced by the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

The ANC Scheme (previously referred to as the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and the Less Favoured Areas Scheme) has been a support for farmers in Ireland since the 1970s, and new EU rules required that Member States change their approach to designating townlands.

This new approach is based on identifying townlands that are considered to be constrained by reference to a range of bio physical criteria set out at EU level.

For the vast majority of farmers, the townlands they farm which have been eligible up to now will remain eligible under the new Scheme.

In total, c. 98pc of currently eligible townlands will remain eligible under the new Scheme. In addition, over 2,000 townlands will now also have eligible land under the Scheme for the first time in 2019.

According to Minister Creed to the extra €25m provided for the Scheme in 2018, a further €23m will now be added to the Scheme in 2019 and the details of the allocation of this money will form part of discussions with stakeholder groups. 

The Minister also outlined that there will be an appeals process in place to deal with queries from farmers in the small number of townlands that are no longer eligible under the new Scheme in 2019. 

This appeals committee will be set up with an independent chairman, and will ensure clarity for all farmers affected by changes to the Scheme. 

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How land was assessed

From 2019, eligible areas must instead be designated using the following list of bio-physical criteria:

  • Low temperature          
  • Dryness
  • Excess soil moisture
  • Limited soil drainage
  • Unfavourable texture and stoniness
  • Shallow rooting depth
  • Poor chemical properties
  • Steep slope

While all the biophysical criteria listed have been mapped, the main criterion impacting in Ireland is excess soil moisture – essentially a prevalence of soils which retain high levels of rainfall with knock on effects for the farming of that land.

This work identified at townland level areas which display one or more of the listed biophysical criteria at a level above the 60pc threshold set out in the Regulation.

The fine tuning process has been carried out at District Electoral Division level. Essentially, the process identified the following 3 categories:

  • DEDs that displayed a stocking density over a 3 year average at level above 1.8 LU per hectare have been fine tuned out. The national average stocking Density is 1.45LU/Ha per DED.
  • DEDs that displayed an average level of above 15pc of the agricultural area taken up by arable crops have been fine tuned out.
  • DEDs that displayed a combination of greater than 8pc arable coverage and between 14. – 1.8 LU per hecate have been fine tuned out.

Identification of areas of specific constraints

The regulation also allows MS to identify areas where “it is necessary for land management to be continued in order to conserve or improve the environment, to maintain the countryside, to preserve the tourist potential of the area, or to protect the coastline.”

Up to 10pc of the total land area of Ireland can be designated in this way as eligible under the Scheme. 

This is the approach taken in the current scheme to underpin the enhanced rates available for island farmers.

As with fine tuning, the approach taken here has been the subject of protracted discussion discussions with DG Agri.  The approach taken has been to designate areas under the following 3 headings as having specific constraints:

1.            Areas of environmental importance

Under this heading, DEDs where 50pc or more of the DED is covered by the Natura 2000 Directives lands and the National Heritage Areas are now eligible under the Scheme.  This approach is clearly in line with the emphasis placed on environmental challenges in our RDP.

2.            Structural Constraints – Fragmentation and Farm Size

Under this heading a DED is deemed to have a specific constraint where it meets the following two criteria

  • Where the land holding is in multiple blocks, ie fragmented.
  • Where the average farm size in a DED is less than 80pc of the national average, i.e. less than 25.6 hectares. 

Taken together, these two elements represent a constraint on farms where we wish to support the continuation of farming in line with the requirements of the EU regulation.

3.            Structural Constraints – Grassland and Field Size

Under this heading, townlands were identified where more than 50pc was in permanent grassland and there was an average field size of less than 4 hectares. 

Focusing on these areas helps to maintain the traditional ‘patchwork landscape’ as well as addressing the constraint identified in Commission guidance documents which state that “grassland used for agricultural purposes is mainly concentrated in regions with less fertile soils”.

Further, the Department said that in order to fully focus the support here on those specific areas within this category facing the most acute need for support, a further refinement was required. 

It has identified a cohort of farmers where the average Family Farm Income (FFI) is less than 65pc of the FFI of farmers who were not classified as disadvantaged / facing constraints in the current iteration of the Scheme. 

"It is our view that these farmers are clearly a cohort where the constraint is most likely to lead to land abandonment etc.  In focusing the structural constraint in this way, the scheme can be more targeted in avoiding land abandonment and the consequent knock on effects in terms of maintaining the patchwork landscape and preserving the environment."

The outcome of this process can be summarised as follows

  • The vast majority of land that was eligible under the existing Scheme will remain eligible under the new approach.
  • Some 700 townlands that would have previously been eligible are not eligible under the new designation.  Farmers impacted financially by this change will receive a degressive phasing out payment in 2019 and 2020.  In the majority of cases, the financial impact of this change is relatively small.
  • Over 2,000 townlands will now be eligible under the new approach and will be eligible to receive a payment for the first time in 2019.

Townlands no longer eligible in 2019

Some 700 townlands will no longer be eligible for the ANC scheme in 2019, having being eligible in 2018. 

These townlands are spread across the country.  Where farmers hold land in these townlands and there is a negative financial impact, degressive phasing out payments will be in place for 2019 and 2020 as set out in the relevant EU regulations.  A rate of 80pc of the 2007-2013 rates will be payable in 2019, and a rate of 20pc in 2020.

Approximately 750 farmers will be negatively impacted by this change.  Leaving the phasing out payments aside, the financial impact will be under €1,000 for over half of the farmers impacted.

The allocation of an additional €23m to the ANC Scheme in 2019.

In Budget 2019, an additional €23m in funding was allocated to the ANC Scheme. This means that the total allocation for the Scheme has increased by €50m to €250m over the last two budgets.

Following on from the redesignation project, a proportion of the additional €23m allocated in Budget 2019 will be expended on payments to farmers who will now be eligible for the first time under the Scheme in 2019, and existing beneficiaries who are gaining new eligible land under the redesignation (including tillage land which is now required to be eligible for the first time). 

For farmers who wish to confirm that the townlands in which they are farming are eligible for support under the 2019 Scheme, a full list of eligible townlands organised on a county basis is available here.  

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