The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has told Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar that farmers on designated Natura 2000 land need a “baseline payment” due to the regulatory burden of farming in these areas.

In a meeting this week, the INHFA highlighted the impact of Natura 2000 restrictions, with its president Vincent Roddy outlining how farmers on these lands “are seeing their farming activity and income undermined”.

“This is something that must be addressed with a baseline payment for the burden of these designations as an urgent requirement,” Roddy added.

He highlighted that the Natura 2000 network of designated lands is “delivering €2.8 billion each year” to the Irish economy.

“This works out at €3,000/ha but farmers are only able to access €79/ha through the Green, Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS). This is a major issue that must be addressed before any further discussions on new designations as proposed in the EU Biodiversity Strategy,” Roddy argued.

“This is why we need the government to deliver the necessary budget to deliver a minimum payment per hectare of at least €150/year,” he added.

During the meeting with Minister Varadkar, the INHFA also highlighted the ongoing concerns around public access and the impact this is having, especially in relation to dog attacks on sheep and insurance issues if walkers get injured.

On the issue of women in agriculture, the INHFA’s Connie Walsh highlighted figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which show that just 13,000 women are ‘officially’ farming and in receipt of farm payments in Ireland, while some 70,000 women “work on farms every day”.

“Policy supports in the upcoming CAP must be inclusive. The culture must change and women need to be recognised for their contribution. We need to see women involved at a senior level in all faming organisations,” Walsh said.

On the proposed Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plan (CSP), INHFA president Roddy told the Taoiseach: “It is vital that the government supports our suckler and sheep farmers through the Pillar II programme.”

Roddy welcomed the increase in government co-funding, but highlighted that “it will only bring us back to the Pillar II allocation for the 2007-2013 CAP period”.

“This would not be acceptable in any other sector and should not be acceptable to farmers either.”

The INHFA are calling for an additional €200 million to support all sheep and suckler farmers, as well as access to the new Agri-Environment Climate Measure (AECM) for “all farmers that are willing to engage and deliver for our environment”.