‘It’s essential that all Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) are maintained’

It is essential that all areas of land that are currently designated as Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) are maintained in the review of the scheme, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, has said.

Speaking at an IFA meeting on the review of ANCs for farmers in Cavan, Monaghan, Meath and Louth, in Cootehill, Co. Cavan tonight, she said that it’s a very important issue.

“We need to make sure that the areas are retained. Under the new criteria, it would appear that these two counties [Cavan and Monaghan] shouldn’t have any difficulty staying in the ANC scheme based on the fact it will be mainly about soil moisture [under the new criteria].”

She said that it is the Minister for Agriculture’s ambition to ensure that anyone who currently receives a payment holds onto it.

Also speaking at the meeting was IFA County Chairman for Monaghan, Brian Treanor, who said that there is a very strong argument in Cavan and Monaghan for the retention of ANCs.

This is because we have a 22 week ban on slurry spreading. We’re in Band C in that regard. We seen what the first of February was like now, we can’t even get out on the fields.

For this reason alone, it should mean that the two counties should have their ANC status retained, he said.

Fine Gael MEP, Mairead McGuinness, was also at the meeting who said that the numbers coming out to meetings on ANCs shows the concern among farmers about farm incomes.

“A loss of money to farmers is an awful problem for you, your parish and your town. If it’s taken away it’s a loss to you.

“It’s really important that [farmers] hold onto the payments. It’s 2003 since the EU Court of Auditors said something has to be done on ANCs – it’s now run out of road.”

IFA is calling for all areas that are currently designated to be fully protected in the review.

It is also calling for funding under the scheme to be restored to their pre-2009 level from the current allocation of €205m to €250m.

Payment rates should be pitched at the level that reflects the natural handicap for various areas, the IFA has said.

The areas that are currently designated are being reviewed in every Member State, where there is a new set of criteria that determines whether land qualifies as being an ANC. Each Member State needs to complete its review by 2018.

The ANC payment is worth €205m annually to approximately 95,000 farmers across the country and 75% of the country is currently designated as ANC.

New ANC criteria

The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, outlined in the Dail this week the new criteria for designating areas under the ANC scheme.

“Currently, eligible land under the scheme is designated by reference to criteria such as stocking density, family farm income, population density and the percentage of the working population engaged in agriculture.

“Under the new system of designation that must be introduced in 2018, eligible areas will have to be designated on the basis of biophysical criteria.”

The criteria set out in the legislation are low temperature; dryness; excess soil moisture; limited soil drainage; unfavourable texture and stoniness; shallow rooting depth; poor chemical properties; and steep slope.

The Minister said that he expects that it will be several weeks before a draft outline of maps, which have the biophysical criteria superimposed on a map of Ireland and which show the areas that are included or excluded under ANC, will be available.