IFA Hill Committee Chairman Pat Dunne has said the prospective TDs must give a strong commitment that hill farming issues will be to the fore in the next Government.
Pat Dunne pointed out, that incomes of hill farmers are the lowest, according to the 2014 Teagasc National Farm Survey. The average farm income in hill areas is €16,338 with direct payments representing 100% or more of the income.
A concerted effort across a wide range of areas will be necessary to deal with the low income crisis and decline in hill farmer numbers. Recent cutbacks to farm schemes and other vital supports have hit hill farmers more than most.
The IFA Hill Farming Chairman said that IFA will be lobbying candidates from all parties in the run up to the General Election and will be seeking assurances that hill farmers will be a priority in future policy initiatives.
Pat Dunne highlighted the main areas which need to be addressed:
- Rural Development Funding: that the funding allocated to the RDP 2014-2020 is fully utilised for farm schemes which help support low income farmers in hill areas.
- GLAS: Payments under GLAS to be increased and the €5,000 limit removed from the general scheme and the €7,000 limit removed for GLAS+. This will help to boost payments to commonage farmers and meet the extra costs of the farming restrictions imposed.
- Areas of Natural Constraint: That an additional €50m is allocated to the ANC scheme to reverse previous cuts and to increase payments up to a maximum of €6,000 in hill areas.
- Knowledge Transfer: that a special Hill Sheep Knowledge Transfer measure is put in place with a payment of €1,000 per participant.
- Suckler Cow Support: A direct payment of €200/cow to maintain the Suckler herd.
- Sheep: A targeted payment of €20 per ewe is required to maintain the national flock, with additional support for hill sheep.
- Targeted Agri-environment Output Scheme: A special upland environmental scheme along the lines of the Burren Programme should be put in place to reward farmers for collectively managing their farms to a specific plan.
- Heritage Bill on Gorse Burning: The recent EU published 2016 Heritage Bill to allow the extension of the burning of Gorse from the end of February to the end of March must be implemented without delay.
- Eligible Land: Recent flexibilities on eligible land must allow farmers to claim land where they are not allowed to improve such as Natura designated land for payment.
- TAMS: The inclusion of Sheep Fencing under TAMS must be followed by an increase in the standard costings to determine grant aid in hill areas where planning approval and other Natura restrictions apply add extra costs to farm investment.
- Agricultural Education: Teagasc should give priority for online courses and more flexible arrangements for farmers in hill areas.
- Designated Natura Land: Where restrictions are imposed on farming in designated Natura land, compensation must be paid through the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme.
- Leader: The operation of Leader through the LCDC structures at Local Authority level must ensure that Designated and Hill areas are not discriminated against with a special emphasis on low income farmers.
- Farm Assist: the income disregards of 30% must be restored in the Farm Assist means test.
- Rural Social Scheme: This scheme should apply not just to recipients of Farm Assist and other Social Welfare schemes but also to other low income farmers who want to participate in this important employment scheme.
- Walks: the number of Walks covered under the Walks Scheme must be increased. This will support the development of recreational tourism in hill areas.
Pat Dunne urged Hill Farmers to make their voices heard in the forthcoming election by bringing all these important issues to the candidates seeking a Dáil seat in the forthcoming election.