The Irish Natura And Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has expressed concerns over the potential “detrimental” effects of a European Council proposal on the management of peat-based soils.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine, INHFA president Colm O’Donnell said that the proposal for an amendment to GAEC 2 is “unprecedented”.

‘Appropriate protection of wetland and peatland’

According to the European Commission, the main objective of the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC 2) – appropriate protection of wetland and peatland – is the “protection of carbon-rich soils”.

Under CAP, GAEC 2 will be applied to eligible agricultural land, as per the European Council proposal.

The INHFA has previously called on the Minister for Agriculture to intervene and ensure the withdrawal of this European Council of Ministers’ proposal.

‘This is unprecedented’

O’Donnell said: “In this new GAEC, which is proposed to protect wetlands and peatlands, there’s the opposite effect – it would actually remove area from being an agricultural area, because of not having an agricultural activity on it.

“The [European] Council’s position on the drafting of an eligible hectare says that an agricultural area must consist of an agricultural area exercising an agricultural activity.

“Clearly, this amendment to comply with that GAEC standard, is knocking the land out of being an eligible area.

“This is unprecedented. This has never happened in the history of this state before in any of the CAP reforms.”

‘Far from protecting this land and the people that farm it’

INHFA’s Henry O’Donnell added that the current amendment by the council “is extremely detrimental to our members on carbon-rich soils”.

“It means that their land, while there’s mention that a derogation may be provided on a national level – and we’re told by our own department that this is to protect our farmers – the reality is that potentially, agricultural activity on this land has to stop and that introduces much bigger questions.

“Will this land still be available for an eco-scheme payment? Will farmers be able to avail of a Pillar II payment on this land? Very far from protecting this land and the people that farm it.

“When you look at the bigger picture, in relation to the Biodiversity Strategy, and the area of carbon sequestration and storage, we can see that the objective here is to sterilise this land to use it for carbon sequestration to offset unsustainable activity everywhere else.”

The INHFA previously estimated that 50,000 farmers on peat soils “could lose payments” under this proposal.