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IFA President John Bryan has led a delegation of county chairmen and officers from the West of Ireland at a meeting with the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to highlight the devastating impact of cuts in the AEOS scheme for farmers especially in SAC and Natura areas.

After a lengthy discussion, Minister Coveney agreed to re-visit the AEOS Natura payment of €150 per hectare once the Expenditure Review has been completed at the end of July. He also confirmed his commitment to securing the low Nitrogen application level on the Species Rich Grassland measure.

John Bryan said the Minister was left in no doubt that this was a critical issue for farmers in the regions affected. “The Natura payment that was promised as part of AEOS1 in 2010 must apply, and also for those who joined AEOS2 this year.”

The IFA President urged the Minister to work with his colleague, Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan, on a number of other issues raised by the delegation, including the review of the stocking levels laid down in the Commonage Framework Plan.

IFA Hill Committee Chairman Tom Fadian said farmers in hill areas feel let down as the AEOS agri-environment payment does not reflect the severe restrictions in the designated areas. Land will be abandoned if a proper agri-environment scheme is not put in place.

IFA Rural Development Chairman Tom Turley told the Minister the cutback in AEOS2, combined with delays in payments due in 2010, 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 payment level would be honoured.

IFA SAC Project Team Chairman Padraic Divilly has called on the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, to implement fully the agreement reached at this week’s meeting of the Peatland Council on turf cutting.

Mr. Divilly said that central to the agreement is that the Government must provide the required resources to achieve the objectives set out by the Council. These include relocation and adequate compensation for those affected, other options for the supply of fuel, an agreed strategy for the restoration and management of raised bogs and that turf cutting on SAC raised bogs can be allowed for domestic purposes in certain circumstances.

The IFA Chairman was critical that such a package had not been put in place before this and that it was left to the intensive negotiations of a meeting of the Peatlands Council to come to an agreement at the eleventh hour.

Mr. Divilly said that a key element of the agreement is that farmers’ Single Farm Payment and other direct payments will be fully protected in 2011. “No farmer should be penalised this year as they were given misleading information on turf cutting prior to and after the General Election by politicians.”

IFA Hill Committee Chairman Tom Fadian said that following representation by IFA to the Department of Agriculture, farmers whose commonage area was reduced following the remapping and digitisation of land in 2010, and where SFP was reduced, will now get a top-up SFP payment following a recalculation of their entitlements.

Mr. Fadian said that 15,000 farmers with commonages had their land area adjusted but around 2,000 had payment reduced as the number of hectares claimed was lower than the number of entitlement they had. While the payments in some cases may be small, nevertheless, for some the top-up payment is worth up to €2,000 which will restore their full entitlements.

The IFA Hill Chairman also said that it was now vital that the Department of Agriculture make the top-up payments immediately and indicate to commonage farmers the number of hectares eligible for SFP purposes in 2011 well in advance of the mid-May application date.

IFA SAC Project Team Chairman Padraic Divilly has described the package announced for turfcutters by Environment Minister Phil Hogan as “not going far enough and will not ease the anger among turfcutters over the restrictions which are being imposed on them”.

Mr Divilly said “Farmers must be allowed to cut turf for domestic purposes. Where restrictions are imposed, the payments should be to €2,000 per annum, and for the lifetime of the bog, not 15 years as announced by the Minister. A lump sum payment would be more appropriate for some farmers as it would allow them to make capital investment in alternative fuel heating systems.”

Padraic Divilly said, “For people who want to continue to cut turf, relocation to other bogs must be an option, and it is disappointing that the Government has not provided such an option to date.”

IFA SAC Project Chairman, Padraic Divilly, has called on the Minister for the Arts, Heritage + Gaeltacht Affairs, Jimmy Deenihan, to confirm that turf cutting can take place this year, on 31 raised SAC bogs, as was indicated in the course of the recent General Election.

Speaking following a meeting of the SAC Monitoring Committee in Dublin, Padraic Divilly raised the issue of turf cutting on 31 SAC raised bogs where a derogation to allow turf cutting was given last year. The NPWS told IFA that it is their intention not to allow turf cutting on these bogs which are mainly located in the West/Midlands area. It is now up to Minister Deenihan to clarify the situation and allow turf cutting on these bogs as was promised during the recent election.

Mr. Divilly said the NPWS approach is in contrast to statements that were made by politicians from the new Government that turf cutting for domestic purposes would be allowed in 2011. Also the new programme for Government which has a special section on turf cutting is ambiguous and needs clarity for the 54 SAC raised bogs, 31 of which may be affected this year.

The IFA Chairman said it is up Minister Deenihan to come out and clarify the situation as turf cutters prepare to start cutting turf. Turf cutters must be allowed to exercise their right to cut turf for domestic purposes this year and beyond.


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