Written Answers. - Commonage Division.

Simon Coveney

Question:

16 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of sheep farmers who received notification to destock in accordance with the commonages framework plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20683/02]

My Department has issued letters to 6,276 farmers notifying them of the preliminary calculation of their permitted stocking levels for the 2003 ewe premium year on foot of the commonage framework plans. In 4,183 cases there was a requirement to destock on existing levels. More than 650 farmers who had previously had quota frozen will have some restored. The remainder will have no further destocking requirement since their frozen quota already constitutes a sufficient reduction in stocking levels. The average net destocking requirement is 20 ewes per farmer.

The freezing of ewe quota on some commonages is the outcome of an agreement between my Department and the EU Commission in 1998, which secured generous REP scheme payments of up to €242 per hectare to farmers with commonage. This agreement was reached at a time when overgrazing by sheep, particularly on commonages in the west, had reached a point where the Commission had threatened to stop all REPS payments on those areas. My Department had to suspend the processing of REP scheme applications in the six western counties that included large areas of commonage. As a result of the 1998 agreement, however, an additional €7 million per year is being paid on top of the basic REP scheme payment to the 3,700 farmers with commonage land who are involved in the scheme. This represents an average annual additional payment of €1,800 per farmer and it brings the total average annual payment for REPS farmers with commonage land to €7,100.
Under the 1998 agreement with the Commission, my Department and Dúchas were required to have individual framework plans prepared for each commonage. Letters have now issued to farmers with ewe quota because the framework plans have been mostly completed. Individual stocking levels have been calculated with reference to the destocking requirement of the relevant plans together with the data already held in the Department in respect of the farmers concerned. While ewe premium in 2003 will be payable only on the quota now notified to them, farmers will have a year to bring their actual stocking levels into line with these calculations and can therefore choose the most advantageous time to sell or acquire stock.
The destocking arrangements are required to implement measures to protect and rejuvenate commonage areas that may be at risk because of overgrazing. They are an integral part of the 1998 agreement with the EU Commission. Any failure to implement them would put in question the generous REP scheme payments based on that agreement. Farmers who are subject to these measures, if they are not already participating in the REP scheme, must apply during 2003 to join it or a complementary national scheme to be operated by Dúchas. Any change to the 1998 agreement would have to be re-negotiated with the EU Commission. In the context of the consultative process on the REP scheme which I recently announced, the participating stakeholders will have an opportunity to discuss the matter.