At an emergency meeting of the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) in Claremorris recently was told that Minister Coveney and his Government had turned their back on farmers in the most vulnerable areas and sectors of farming.

INHFA Policy Spokesperson Colm O’Donnell stated that “only 223 commonages have applied for a Commonage Management Plan (CMP) under GLAS which translates to approximately 5% of the total amount of commonages.

When the INHFA met the Minister on this issue back in December 2014 it presented a 12-point plan outlining the best way to structure and implement the CMP, O’Donnell said.

“While a number of points were taken on board, the main barriers to entry for the traditional hill farmer remain, in what we now consider as a scheme that must be amended before the second tranche opens in September.”

Failure to do this will, O’Donnell said, see the destocking of stable flocks under many CMPs and among other things exclude farmers that may have small amounts of heather in their land parcels from the low input permanent grassland option under GLAS.

He said that the INHFA is also demanding that the Department of Agriculture commission and take ownership of the CMPs as the present system of approving and training planners is not working.

“Indeed it has resulted in many farmers being hung out to dry and it would now appear that Tier 3 applications will be successful at the expense of Tier 1 farmers with priority assets.”

He also said that the Beef Genomics Scheme “completely ignores” the contribution made by the small suckler herds found very often on the more marginal lands as most of these farmers will be unable to meet the impossible criteria being laid down in the scheme.

“This will have the result of creating a distortion in the beef sector where larger scale producers who will be in a position to meet the criteria could have a massive comparative advantage.”

The INHFA is calling on the Minister to use the unspent funds that will arise in Pillar two on specific welfare measures for lambs and weanlings prioritising farmers that farm lands classified as ‘mountain-type lands’.

It says this is justified in light of the fact that they have clearly been disadvantaged the most by the removal of the sheep grassland scheme and the discriminatory nature of the Beef Genomics scheme.