The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) recently held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Co. Donegal, where members impressed upon the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, who was in attendance, the need for full flattening of Pillar I payments in the Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plan (CSP).

During the AGM, outgoing president Colm O’Donnell handed the reigns over to Roscommon native, Vincent Roddy, who has now taken over the role.

Agriland interviewed Roddy at the AGM and asked him about CAP, Budget 22 and the future for Irish hill farmers (see video above).

INHFA on payments for farmers

The INHFA is pushing for a full flattening of Pillar I payments and a front loaded payment to be structured into the CSP.

Roddy said: “In doing this, we recognise that these policies not only deliver in terms of equal payment for the same conditions, but it also provides the best means of protecting the greatest number of farmers.

“In Pillar II, the level of co-funding will be critical in how schemes are designed. On this we are calling for a budget increase of at least €250 million to deliver an overall annual budget in excess of €850 million.

“This is the minimum to deliver adequate supports for our suckler and sheep sectors. These supports must come in the form of welfare type schemes and not a carbon efficiency programme as currently outlined for the suckler sector,” he added.

Eco-schemes and culling herds

The association president told the gathering in Donegal that in relation to agri-environmental supports, it is vital that access to supports is provided to all farmers who are currently delivering on environmental outcomes.

He emphasised to the minister the importance of not excluding private hill lands and farmers operating in high nature farming systems, as was the case with Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS).

The INHFA has criticised the Climate Change Advisory Council, arguing that it recommended that the suckler herd be reduced due to a lack of profitability.

Roddy said: “When it comes to bodies such as the Climate Change Advisory Council, I imagine their role is to assess emissions and their impact based on the science and not whether a sector is profitable or not.

“It is vital that the Climate Change Advisory Council revisits this and provides an updated view based entirely on science. If this is done, I am confident that the suckler sector, with its extensive farming systems, will no longer be viewed as an ongoing threat in the battle against climate change.”                                                                                  

‘Just Transition’ and low incomes

At the AGM, Roddy pointed out to Minister McConalogue that based on the EU’s Nature Fitness Check, the Natura 2000 network is delivering €2.5 billion each year to the Irish economy, translating into €3,000/ha.

INHFA president Vincent Roddy and agriculture minister, Charlie McConalogue at the INHFA AGM 2021 in Co. Donegal

“For our farmers, the only payment available to them is €79/ha but they have to join GLAS for this,” Roddy added.

The president outlined also how many farmers are leaving the suckler and sheep sectors in particular, because the low income is not a sustainable way to make a living.

“This low income has been driven by a cheap food policy instigated by the EEC decades ago. To compensate and ensure food production across Europe, CAP was expanded as a mechanism to support this and our farmers,” Roddy explained.

“While this worked for a period of time to everyone’s benefit, a stagnant CAP budget in recent times has contributed to the fall in incomes and the ongoing exodus from the land,” he added.

Roddy added that low incomes also played a part in terms of farm safety, with many farmers often forced to work long hours alone, under immense pressure and therefore at higher risk of having an accident.

Forestry policy suggestions from INHFA

Another issue raised by the INHFA with Minister McConalogue was the current crisis in the Irish forestry sector.

Roddy raised concern about what he described as the current forestry policy which continues to encourage the planting of sitka spruce-dominated forests.

He said that such planting, which has been especially prevalent in Leitrim, is detrimental to biodiversity and rural communities.

In its submission on Budget 22, the INHFA recommends that the afforestation programme should only facilitate the planting of commercial broadleaf and native woodland.

Additionally the INHFA wants the scheme to be available only to “genuine” farmers who have farmed the land for a minimum of five years.