In order to avoid land abandonment, DAS seeks to compensate those farming in agriculturally disadvantaged areas. The Scheme encourages sustainable use of agricultural land in less favoured areas and takes account of environmental protection requirements. The Scheme as operated by this Department defines DAS land under the following:
- Less Severely Handicapped Lowland and Coastal Areas with Specific Handicaps: (payable at €82.27 per forage hectare);
- More Severely Handicapped Lowland: (payable at €95.99 per forage hectare);
- Mountain Type Grazing: (payable at €109.71 on first 10 forage hectares or part thereof and €95.99 per hectare on remaining forage hectares).
It can be seen from the above classifications and rates payable that due recognition is given to the varying degrees of disadvantage which farmers face, depending on the area of the country in which they farm. Furthermore, the area of the country classified as disadvantaged represents approximately 75% of farmland; this designation ranges from whole counties being designated as disadvantaged, some counties being partially designated, to those counties with no designated land. In the case of the two counties mentioned, Leitrim and Meath, the entire of County Leitrim is classified as disadvantaged (the entire county being classified as More Severely Handicapped), while a very small portion of County Meath is classified as disadvantaged (approximately 14%), the areas classified as disadvantaged being defined as Less Severely Handicapped, in the main, with a small area defined as More Severely Handicapped.
In recognition of the physical and natural constrains occurring in areas designated as disadvantaged, farmers area required to maintain a very low minimum stocking density on their holdings; under the 2012 Scheme the requirement is to maintain a minimum stocking density per forage hectare of 0.15 livestock units for a minimum retention period of six consecutive months, in addition to which applicants must maintain an annual average of 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare over the 12 months of the Scheme year. This minimum stocking requirement equates with a stocking level of one ewe per hectare. In most areas, where the farmers are predominantly involved in livestock production, the average stocking density is well over 1.0 livestock units per hectare (lu/ha) and in many of these areas over 2.0 lu/ha.
Furthermore, provision is made for those farmers whose adherence to recognised environmental protection plans (REPS, etc) oblige them to maintain a stocking density lower than 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare; in such cases this Department accepts the lower stocking level as meeting the requirements of the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.