‘GLAS proposals adapted significantly in light of hill farmer concerns’

Having listened very carefully to the concerns expressed by hill-farmers and their representatives over the new GLAS scheme, the Minister for Agriculture Food and Marine has said he has adapted the proposals significantly in the light of those concerns.

In a detailed response to a parliamentary question on the issues he said the original requirement was for 80% participation, but this was subsequently reduced to 50%, with further clarification provided that this would be calculated on the basis of the number of active farmers on the hill.

“What this means in practice is that in a situation where there are 20 shareholders on a commonage, of whom 16 have claims, and 10 of these have sheep, then the 50% requirement to set up a GLAS Plan would be just five shareholders – not eight, and not 10. In practice, then, the 50% requirement is unlikely to be an obstacle, but where it still proves impossible to achieve the shareholders concerned who wish to join GLAS can still do so by bringing their case to the Implementation Committee.”

Minister Coveney said that on the question of the agreement reached between the group and the Commonage Implementation Committee, it was made very clear in the agreed wording that there could only be one plan for each commonage and that a minimum participation level of 50% would continue to apply.

However, he said it was also made clear that farmers could indicate their interest in joining the scheme on an individual basis, applying directly to the adviser preparing the single plan, or routing that through their own adviser if preferred. This remains the case.

“I have also made it clear that where it is not possible to achieve the required 50% participation level on any commonage, no genuine applicant will be locked out of the scheme.”

The Minister stated that once within the scheme, it is the farmers themselves who, in consultation with the commonage advisor, design their own plan, set the grazing levels and distribute any additional grazing requirement.

He said this puts the development of the plan in the hands of the farmers themselves and the Department has no role in drawing up or paying for the plan; the cost of the plan is built into the payment rate for the commonage which has been significantly increased for the new programme from €75/ha to €120/ha.

“If people look carefully at what is actually proposed, they will see that this is a very flexible scheme which actually gives the shareholders a real say in how the hills are managed, in their own best interests and in the interests of the environment.”

Minister Coveney said that ongoing consultation is taking place with individual farmers, farming organisations and public representatives to address any outstanding reasonable concerns. The priority is to progress the launch of the scheme so that the benefits of these new arrangements, including the increased payments, can transfer to farmers as soon as possible.