The newly-formed farming organisation – Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) – has outlined some of its key policy platforms this week.

Since the draft Rural Development Program was sent to the European Commission last summer by the Dept of Agriculture, a group of Hill farmers and those farming designated lands including farmers with Hen Harrier sites have sustained a campaign to make changes to the RDP.

According to INHFA’s spokesman Colm O’Donnell the reasons for this was that commonage farmers could access the GLAS scheme as individuals and where Natura lands have been devalued by designation, that measures would be added to help keep those farms viable.

In recent months a number of delegations from the group travelled to Brussels to meet officials within the commission dealing directly with Ireland’s submissions for both pillar one and pillar two schemes.

“Of major concern to us was the proposed added requirement for a stocking density or minimum activity for marginal land having already satisfied the definition of being an active farmer to claim the new Basic Payment Scheme.

“We acknowledge that Minister Coveney has subsequently dropped this requirement,” O’Donnell said.

Other areas of concern for the new group were the barriers for entry to GLAS for commonage farmers, in particular the proposal that required 50% of the active shareholders having to make a joint application to gain tier one access to the scheme.

“Also for farmers with shares in two or more commonages, joining GLAS would not be feasible because of the cost of drawing up three or more plans with a capping of €5,000,” he said.

Another major concern for the INHFA is that Natura lands (designated lands) must qualify for GLAS plus where farmers managing these areas have higher transaction costs associated with prescribed actions within their GLAS plans and especially on designated farms greater than 42ha.

According to O’Donnell the Minister Simon Coveney’s address, to delegates at the AGM of IFA stated that “there is no collective agreement and no collective plan, there will be one Commonage Management Plan (CMP) per commonage and each individual farmer will then apply to that plan”.

He said this movement by the Minister is coming closer to the view the organisation put forward in its 12-point plan that commonage farmers apply as individuals referring to the CMP.

“It is equally encouraging that the IFA is now not happy with the 50% collective agreement for commonage farmers to gain priority access into GLAS,” he said.

O’Donnell says the group has always held the view that creating any percentage level of a collective agreement as a pre-condition to entry was unworkable and no guarantee of successful implementation of the objectives.

“Commonage farmers must now be allowed to apply individually for GLAS before May 15 and develop the CMPs in consultation with planners over the summer period,” he said.

O’Donnell says the groups view is that the only way to start the process of developing a CMP is to have the Dept. of Agriculture commission the plans and appoint their agent or advisor under agreed terms (including methods of payment for plans) with all stakeholders.

The Group have also emphasised to both the Department and to the EU the importance of adopting the correct definition for the propose of land eligibility in marginal and hill land.

“The flexibility is there under EU Regulation to define such lands as ”Permanent Grasslands under Established Local Practices,” O’Donnell says.

He says the adoption of this interpretation would ensure that the suckler and sheep farmers farming in these vulnerable areas could continue to do so in an environmentally positive manner while satisfying the objectives laid down by the EU.

The group has put together a project team comprising of farmers from many areas around the country with the goal of having the mechanics of the new organisation in place over the coming number of weeks.

It will also be holding public meetings where the grass roots of the new organisation will be encouraged to shape the policies and direction of its future.