Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Agriculture and Food, Éamon Ó Cuív, has said there is a major threat to hill farmers built into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) agreement agreed by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney during the summer.

According to deputy Ó Cuív, it seems hill farmers, who do not farm the commonage actively, could lose their payments and be excluded from the single farm payment (SFP) under the new CAP.

“I asked the minister, through a parliamentary question, if farmers who own commonage but do not actively farm the commonage and enclosed land, will be eligible for the SFP on either or both of their commonage and enclosed land. I further asked him if it is sufficient for a farmer with commonage land to ensure it is maintained in good agricultural and environmental condition in order to be eligible for the SFP.

“In response, the minister said there is a requirement that the farmer must be ‘active’ which, in the case of marginal land such as mountain commonages, involves carrying out ‘minimum activity,’ which is to be defined by each member state. The minister has not ruled out the possibility that a very large number of farmers, farming in hill areas, who do not actively use the commonage, might not be eligible for the SFP on any of their land. This is a very worrying development and one that must be countered at all costs.

“I am now calling on the farming organisations to press the minister in relation to this so that hill farmers are not discriminated against in any way. There is no requirement for farmers to keep stock on all of the land, the only requirement is to maintain the land in good agriculture and environmental condition. In relation to hill land, many farmers cannot farm the commonage because of age or health reasons because places such as Connemara, Donegal, Kerry have very steep mountains.

“As long as the commonage land is maintained in good agriculture and environmental condition, all farmers should be entitled to SFP on all their land.

“Once again, Minister Coveney is showing his total lack of understanding of hill farming and his unwillingness to understand the importance of maintaining hill farms in the unique environment that they protect.”