IFA sets out 10-point plan for the survival of hill farming

The survival and the development of the hill farming sector were discussed at today’s IFA Hill Sheep Farmers’ Forum in Newport, Co. Mayo where the IFA launched its Action Plan for Hill Areas.

The IFA President, Joe Healy, launched the 10-point plan and said that it must be a priority for the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed and other ministers.

Healy said, the policy actions, if implemented, could have a very positive impact on hill farming and on wider rural communities.

Hill areas are generally economically vulnerable and policy responses from Government are needed to arrest the decline that has become more apparent in recent times.

“The IFA Action Plan is geared at positively promoting the sustainable development of hill areas.”

IFA National Sheep Chairman John Lynskey said IFA had secured €25m in additional funding for a new targeted sheep support scheme under the Rural Development Programme.

He said the scheme must be simple and effective with minimal expense, costs or bureaucracy on farmers.

He added that it must involve a menu of optional measures, including a number of options that suit hill sheep farmers.

Meanwhile, IFA Hill Chairman Pat Dunne said 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 income, he said.

Dunne said a concerted campaign 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, he concluded.

IFA’s 10-point plan for the survival of farming in hill areas:

1. New €25m sheep scheme

To be introduced in Budget 2017, simple and effective, with minimal costs and bureaucracy on farmers, involving a menu of optional measures, including options that suit hill farmers.

2. GLAS: Increase in payments under GLAS

The €5,000 cap removed from the general scheme as well as the €7,000 limit for GLAS Plus. Increase in Commonage and Natura payment to €150/ha with greater flexibilities in management plans.

3. Areas of Natural Constraint – €25m ANC increase

Programme for Government increase brought forward to Budget 2017. Increase payments up to a maximum of €6,000 in hill areas to better reflect the natural handicaps in upland areas.

4. Knowledge Transfer: Special Hill Sheep Knowledge Transfer measure, with a payment of €1,000 per participant

This would help hill farmers embrace the most up-to-date Teagasc research and should also include a Bord Bia initiative on market requirements and promotion for light lamb.

5. Beef Data and Genomics Programme

Payment of €200/cow should apply for hill farmers.

6. Targeted Agri-Environment Output Scheme

A special upland environmental scheme similar to the Burren to reward farmers for collectively managing their farms under the locally-led targeted Environmental scheme.

7. Eligible Land

Recent flexibilities on eligible land must allow farmers to claim land where they are not allowed to improve, such as Natura land.

8. TAMS

Increase in standard costings to reflect the higher investment costs in hill areas where planning approval and other Natura restrictions apply.

9. Designated Land

Where restrictions are imposed on farming in designated land, compensation must be paid through the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme.

10. Farm Assist

To support low income farmers, the restoration of the income and child disregards in the means test for Farm Assist must be a priority in the current review of the scheme.

In addition, the related Rural Social Scheme should allow more places in peripheral areas as community employment type schemes play a vital role in these marginal areas where economic opportunities are limited.