‘Department supportive of returning emigrants but NR is limited’

While the Department of Agriculture is “fully supportive” of returning emigrants engaging in farming, the National Reserve is a limited resource, a department spokesman has said.

This point was made in a statement issued in response to comments made by a USA-based lobbyist on AgriLand last week.

The spokesman added that it was important to ensure that access is fair and directed towards active farmers.

Emigrants’ advocate, Ciaran Staunton, had called on the Government to remove “roadblocks” hindering returned emigrants, and to instead provide incentives to revitalise rural communities. He also highlighted what he regarded as unfair criteria for the National Reserve (NR).

The department said that the National Reserve is a measure under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) which was introduced under EU regulation to provide for an allocation of entitlements to young farmers and new entrants to farming.

Support to new entrants

“These entitlements allow the farmer access to the BPS and Greening payment, provided each entitlement is accompanied by a hectare of eligible land,” the statement said.

The scheme, the statement added, was designed to provide financial support to young farmers and new entrants to farming during the crucial early years immediately following the setting up of a farming enterprise.

“The National Reserve provides for an allocation of entitlements at the national average level or a top-up on existing entitlements that are below the national average to two mandatory categories of ‘young farmer’ and ‘new entrant to farming’. EU regulations set down the eligibility criteria applying to both categories,” it added.

“Member states may also apply objective criteria to successful applicants under the National Reserve. Since the introduction of the Single Farm Payment Scheme in 2005, Ireland has required successful applicants under the National Reserve to meet qualifying criteria in respect of agricultural education and off-farm income.

Decisions in relation to the inclusion of additional objective criteria for the National Reserve and Young Farmers Scheme are taken in consultation with the Direct Payment Advisory Committee, which comprises members of the main farming bodies, education and advisory services.

These objective criteria are in place to make sure that National Reserve and Young Farmer Scheme funding is targeted at bona fide young farmers, the department outlined.

Outside Ireland

“There is no requirement that the agricultural educational qualification must be achieved in Ireland. Under the 2015 and 2017 National Reserve, there were successful applicants who had achieved their agricultural education award outside Ireland.

There were also successful applicants under the 2015 and 2017 National Reserve who were living abroad prior to their application under the scheme,” said the department.

“Successful applicants under the 2015 and 2017 National Reserve have also provided verification of off-farm income earned in other jurisdictions.”

Education

Recently Macra na Feirme, as part of its CAP 2020 consultations, reported that over 90% of young farmers surveyed were in favour of completing agricultural education in order to receive a direct payment, said the department.

“All farmers who are actively farming can lease or buy payment entitlements. Under the BPS, entitlements can be leased with or without land. Leased entitlements also attract the Greening payment if otherwise eligible.”

The Young Farmers Scheme, the department said, is a separate scheme introduced under the BPS in 2015 to provide an additional payment to young farmers based on activated entitlements.

“Unlike the National Reserve, the Young Farmers Scheme is financed each year via a cut to the direct payment’s financial ceiling. Ireland has committed to applying this 2% cut annually during the lifetime of the scheme, resulting in approximately €120 million being set aside for the Young Farmers Scheme between 2015 and 2019.

Based on entitlements allocated from the National Reserve in 2015 and 2017, together with the value of associated Greening payments and Young Farmers Scheme payments, some €160 million has issued in payments under Pillar I to young farmers and new entrants to farming between 2015 and 2017.

This, the department said, is a significant investment of public funds in supporting rural Ireland through measures to underpin generational renewal by facilitating the entry of young well-educated persons into farming communities.

The statement said there have been benefits to west of Ireland counties from National Reserve and Young Farmers Scheme.

“Of the more than 7,150 successful applicants under the National Reserve in 2015 and 2017, 50% of these beneficiaries are from the nine western seaboard and Connacht counties from Kerry to Donegal.

“A further 45% of over 8,000 successful applicants under the Young Farmers Scheme in 2015, 2016 and 2017 are from the nine western seaboard and Connacht counties from Kerry to Donegal.”