Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has been called on to intervene and ensure the withdrawal of a European Council of Ministers proposal on the management of peat-based soils.

The calls for the minister to act are being made by Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) this week.

The council’s proposal which is covered under eligible hectare in GAEC (Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition) 2 will “create a situation that agricultural activity on these peat-soils is no longer allowed as farmers are required to carry out actions that will make farming activity impossible”, INHFA president Colm O’Donnell warned.

If this happens then the land impacted will not be viewed as an agricultural area making the area concerned ineligible for CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] payments.

“This is a major concern especially for the estimated 50,000 farmers across one million hectares with varying amounts of peat-soils.

“For these farmers the application of GAEC 2 under the proposed council text will create another designation,” the president said.

“Since this council text first appeared, we have been making representations to our public representatives both here and in Brussels highlighting the dangers that are in this proposal.”

Continuing, O’Donnell noted that the European Council of Ministers are aware of this potential impact, which is why the introduction of a derogation was recommended.

This derogation will, they maintain, ensure payments for farmers where their land is made ineligible as a result of complying with the conditions, they have set out for GAEC 2.

The president questioned why the council “would even consider” creating a condition that they “recognise is unattainable”.

Commenting on the proposed derogation, O’Donnell said that a derogation such as this is not unique.

“We have a very similar derogation in place on the current CAP for farmers who have land made ineligible as a result of complying with the conditions set out in our Natura Directives – SAC [Special Area of Conservation] and SPA [Special Protected Area] designations,” he said.

“Unfortunately for farmers with Natura land, this derogation has been a spectacular failure as revealed by the Department of Agriculture’s own figures outlined at a Charter of Rights Meeting.”

These figures he noted relate to the 2017 derogation requests and showed how 927 were assessed but only 13 were successful in keeping their land eligible.

“These were farmers with environmental assets looking for help to keep their lands eligible as an agricultural area and in most cases failing to do so.

“With a success rate of less than 1.5% any farmer would be very foolish to put their trust in a similar derogation for GAEC 2 in the upcoming CAP,” he added.

Concluding, the president emphasised the important role Minister McConalogue has on this, stating:

“Many farmers in his own constituency will be adversely impacted if the council proposal is adopted.

“This is why it must be withdrawn in favour of the compromise text from the European Commission and Parliament.”