Hill farmers facing a €50m hammer blow on payments
Stricter inspections could make 250,000 hectares ineligible for Basic Payment and ANC cash, claim farm leaders
Hill farmers and stock owners with marginal land potentially stand to lose more than €50m in direct payments as a result of a new round of land eligibility inspections by the Department of Agriculture, it has been claimed.
The Farming Independent has learned that the inspections start this week with far tighter criteria being employed by officials regarding ground that qualifies for payments.
The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has claimed that stricter eligibility rules could remove up to one-third of hill and marginal ground, or around 250,000 hectares.
Vincent Roddy (pictured) of the INHFA said this would cost affected farmers €150/ha under the Basic Payment Scheme, and a further €96/ha in ANC payments. The full €246/ha loss across 250,000 hectares, even allowing for deductions, would exceed €50m.
The INHFA claim that upland commonages with significant heather cover could be deemed ineligible - although much of this ground is designated for environmental schemes and farm practices such as mowing, spraying and topping are prohibited.
In a hard hitting letter to the Agriculture Minister and other Oireachtas TDs, the INHFA expressed alarm regarding the latest land eligibility inspections on commonages.
It maintained that inspectors have been advised to make as much land as possible ineligible and also claim that in-service training of inspectors on new criteria has already taken place.
However, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has strongly refuted the hill farmers' concerns. He said the Department was obliged to carry out a minimum level of inspections under various schemes and "no sector" would be targeted.