Talks ongoing over DAS changes -- IFA
Proposed changes to the Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS), stringent Department of Agriculture inspections and delays in direct payments were all in the firing line at an IFA meeting last Thursday night.
More than 500 farmers from Galway, Mayo, Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon and Donegal packed The Bush Hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon for an information meeting organised by the IFA and attended by Department of Agriculture staff.
Having met with Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney just hours before, IFA officials told farmers that negotiations were ongoing in relation to proposed DAS changes.
The proposals, which were announced in the Budget last December, would see the minimum stocking rate for Disadvantaged Areas increased from 0.15LU/ha to 0.30LU/ha and retention periods set at a minimum of three consecutive months.
Farmers expressed anger that these conditions were now being imposed retrospectively, as farmers who did not meet the criteria last year would be ineligible for this year's DAS.
"This rule is unfair, as farmers qualified last year at a lower 0.15LU/ha, and many farmers who reached these criteria last year will be ineligible for 2012 if the minister persists with this rule change," said IFA deputy president Eddie Downey.
Mr Downey called on Mr Coveney to immediately finalise the new rules and notify farmers well in advance of the mid-May single farm payment (SFP) application deadline.
He also expressed concern about the "level of stress and fear" that Department farm inspections provoked.
Mr Downey said this level of anxiety and worry surrounding the inspection process was totally unacceptable.
"Farmers are entitled to fair and reasonable procedures. Inspectors can just walk into farmyards unannounced. The dignity and rights of farmers must be protected under the inspection process," Mr Downey said.
On the question of what was deemed 'eligible' and 'ineligible' land for the SFP, Al Grogan, a senior inspector with the Department, warned that the land area declared had to be accurate on farmer applications. "Nobody goes out to make sure that a farmer takes a hit. Why would they?" he said.
"There is absolutely no compulsion on an inspector to hit a farmer, I guarantee you that. We are continually monitoring the performance of our staff."
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