Disadvantaged Areas Scheme Eligibility

Questions (42)

Éamon Ó Cuív


42. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of farmers, broken down on a county basis, who were refused their 2012 disadvantaged area scheme payment to date because they did not reach the required 2012 or 2011 stocking density; if in view of the fodder crisishe intends to relax these rules in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21498/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Payments under the 2012 Disadvantaged Areas Scheme commenced, on target, on 26 September 2012 which is much earlier than in the vast majority of Member States across the European Union. To date, payments worth in excess of €207 million have issued to 94,671 of the total of 102,072 who applied.

Many applicants, who declare land situated in a Disadvantaged Area, are found not to be eligible for payment under the Scheme. Many of these applicants do not maintain any animals and those that do maintain animals do not keep sufficient livestock to meet the minimum stocking density of 0.15 livestock units per hectare. This is a normal feature of the Disadvantaged Area Scheme. For example, in excess of 2,100 applicants under the 2011 DAS Scheme were found to be non-compliant, as they had insufficient stocking density on their holdings. The figure for 2012 is over 5,000, which is accounted for by the more focused requirements for establishing the minimum stocking density introduced under the 2012 Scheme. In addition, there are in excess of 3,000 applicants who held no stock during 2012.

The revised stocking-density provisions introduced in 2012 necessitated processing almost 10,000 cases under the derogation measure in order to give applicants access to a robust and fair appeal process. The small number of outstanding cases relate in the main to those for which additional substantiating material is awaited.

It will be seen, therefore, that all applicants, whose eligibility for payment under the 2012 DAS Scheme has been established, have been paid and payments continue to be made twice weekly as individual cases are confirmed eligible.

A tabular breakdown of the position by county will be provided directly to the Deputy.

Turning to the 2013 DAS Scheme, which, as already announced, is focused on the protection of the smaller and most disadvantaged, I would like to remind farmers that the deadline for receipt of applications is 15th May 2013. I would urge all farmers to submit their applications as quickly as possible. I would also urge them to use the on-line filing facility. This reduces the number of errors that an applicant can make and, therefore, reduces the risk of payments being delayed in what has been, despite the mitigating measures taken, a very difficult year to date for farmers in view particularly of the weather conditions. The terms and conditions of the 2013 DAS Scheme remain as previously announced. Farmers with fodder related stocking difficulties may avail of the force majeure provisions in the Scheme.

Horse Statistics

Questions (43)

Barry Cowen


43. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of horses in the State at present; the arrangement in place to keep a record of these horses; the proposals to upgrade this system; the number of these proposals that have been implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21486/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I understand that a study entitled “Economic Contribution of the Sport Horse Industry to the Irish Economy” carried out by UCD in 2012 and commissioned by Horse Sport Ireland estimated the current population of sport horses registered with Passport Issuing Organisations at 124,000.

I also understand from estimates provided by Weatherbys Ireland and Horse Racing Ireland that in 2012 the number of thoroughbred horses in the breeding sector and in training was 30,000.

Currently under EU and National Legislation each Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) is required to maintain a database of all registrations. This information must be retained for at least 35 years or until at least 2 years from the notification of the date of death of a horse.

However, my Department is developing a central database which will involve migration of selected data from PIOs to the Department. It will also be populated with information provided from records obtained from slaughter plants and knackeries. The intention is that access to this system will enhance the controls and traceability in the equine industry. This database will also facilitate updated amendments to passports, for example, the recording of changes of ownership or equine status.

Milk Price Issues

Questions (44)

Willie O'Dea


44. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he has taken to ensure that liquid milk producers get an adequate price for their product to ensure long-term viability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21500/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The regulation of milk for liquid consumption is a matter for the National Milk Agency, which was established under the Milk (Regulation of Supply) Act, 1994. This legislation provides that pasteurised milk produced in the State cannot be sold for liquid consumption unless it has been produced under a contract registered with the National Milk Agency. It also provides, inter alia, that the contract must be for at least 12 months and, in the opinion of the Agency, provides adequate compensation to the producer taking into account, in particular, in relation to the winter months, the economic costs of production of raw milk all the year round.

Common Agricultural Policy Reform

Questions (45)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


45. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will outline in tabular form the adjusted figures for farmers following the revised CAP reform who had a single payment of €100/ha, €200/ha, €300/ha, €400/ha and €500/ha respectively in 2005, based on the best possible outcome under the proposals contained in the Council of EU Ministers agreement of the 19 of March, taking into account modulation cuts since 2005, EU budget cuts 2013/2014 and his proposed internal convergence and greening approximation proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21499/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The database created by my Department, based on payments made to farmers in 2010, was established for the specific purpose of modelling the impacts of alternative approaches to internal convergence, rather than to deal with all of the Commission proposals on direct payments or to capture the effect of CAP budget cuts, changes in modulation and so on. Thus, it does not capture the effects of reductions proposed to payments arising from reductions in the overall CAP budget or the cessation of modulation. Neither does it capture the effects of other changes proposed to the Direct Payments Scheme e.g. to fund the national reserve, the payment to young farmers, the crisis fund and coupled payments. These proposed reductions are still the subject of negotiations and there is no certainty as to the final outcome.

While the European Council reached agreement on the new Multiannual Financial Framework for the EU budget in February last, this agreement has yet to be endorsed by the European Parliament. The agreement envisages a reduction in the Direct Payments budget of just over 3% together with a redistribution of payments between Member States or external convergence as it is known. Ireland is largely protected from the latter with an overall cut in direct payments of some 3.3%.

The Commission proposals envisage a number of other changes to the basic payment scheme that need to be taken into account to conduct meaningful modelling. These include proposed reductions to all payments to fund the national reserve and to provide top-up payments for young farmers. The percentages currently proposed are for maximum deductions of 3% and 2% respectively. However, the final deductions may be less – depending on the funding needs for these schemes.

There is also provision for a crisis fund – to be financed from cuts to direct payments – and refunded to farmers if not used to address a crisis in the market. There is an additional complication in regard to this fund in that there is a disagreement between the Commission, Council and European Parliament as to whether annual payments below €5,000 should be exempt from deductions to finance this. The Commission has proposed a franchise of €5,000. The European Parliament has proposed no franchise and the Council has suggested a limit of €2,000. This will have to be resolved before any meaningful modelling can be carried out on the impact.

Equally, there is disagreement between the three institutions on the level of coupling that should be allowed with the Commission arguing for a 5% limit in the case of Member States such as Ireland who have fully decoupled payments, the Council advocating a maximum level of 7% for these Member States and the European Parliament seeking a maximum of 15%. And of course, coupled payments are proposed as an option for Member States. I do not intend to take a decision whether to proceed with a deduction for coupled payments until the deal is finalised and the full outcome known.

Given the extent of variables, it would be premature, in my view, to attempt an exercise that would superimpose the impact of internal convergence and variable greening on the other factors playing out in these negotiations.

Common Agricultural Policy Reform

Questions (46)

Timmy Dooley


46. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the discussions to date with the EU Commission as part of Common Agricultural Policy reform to ensure price stability and a fair return to primary producers as a central part of CAP reform; the proposed mechanisms being discussed to ensure this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21468/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Since I assumed office over two years ago, the EU agriculture agenda has been dominated by discussion of CAP reform. I have had innumerable discussions with the EU Commission on the content and impact of the proposals, both before they were formally adopted by the Commission and presented to Member States in October 2011 and since.

The Commission proposals envisage a strong future CAP based on two complementary pillars with three strategic aims of preserving food production potential in the EU, sustainable management of natural resources and maintaining viable rural areas. Ensuring price stability and a fair return to primary producers are central tenets of the reform in that the Commission proposals envisage maintaining direct payments to farmers and market support tools at safety-net level.

Since the beginning of the year, negotiations have made considerable progress across a number of fronts. Following the agreement by the European Council on the Multiannual Financial Framework in early February, the European Parliament agreed its position on the CAP reform package in March. This was followed, also in March, by the successful adoption by the Council of Agriculture Ministers - by a strong qualified majority - of its General Approach on CAP Reform. The latter, in particular, marked a considerable achievement, taking place as it did against a background of lengthy, intensive negotiations with my Member State colleagues across a range of complex and sensitive issues.

The negotiations have now moved to discussions between the EU institutions and an intensive schedule of trilogue discussions with the European Parliament and EU Commission commenced on 11th April 2013. The first trilogues have taken place in a very constructive and positive atmosphere, with working methods agreed, technical issues identified for further examination and initial discussions taking place on more difficult political points. These trilogues are continuing and we are still on course to achieve inter-institutional agreement by the end of June 2013.

Aquaculture Development

Questions (47)

Mick Wallace


47. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the fact that delays since 2010 in the assessment of applications for oyster-farming licences at Bannow Bay and Waterford Estuary is delaying job creation in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21511/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The bays referred to by the Deputy are designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and/or Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive (Natura 2000 sites).

All applications in ‘Natura’ areas are required to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of environmental compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. My Department, in conjunction with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is engaged in a comprehensive programme to gather the necessary baseline data appropriate to the conservation objectives of ‘Natura’ areas. This data collection programme is substantially complete. Analysis of the data, together with the setting of appropriate conservation objectives by the NPWS, will enable all new, renewal and review applications to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. This work represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State in resolving this issue. The Appropriate Assessment of aquaculture applications is being dealt with on a bay-by-bay basis.

Addressing the issue of aquaculture licensing in Natura 2000 areas is a key priority for my Department and the Deputy can be assured that every effort is being made to expedite the completion of the overall process having regard to all the complexities involved.

National Cattle Herd Data

Questions (48)

Michael Creed


48. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his Department has records of the number of suckler cows in the national herd; the estimated annual cost to farmers of maintaining a suckler cow; the steps he proposes to take to ensure higher quality beef production; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21405/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Data on the national cattle herd is published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and is sourced from my Department’s Animal Identification and Movement system which electronically records data on animal movements on a central database in accordance with EU traceability requirements. The CSO figures categorise cows according to whether they are kept for beef or dairy production. The results of the December 2012 Livestock Survey show that beef cow numbers stood at 1,127,900 head, which was an increase of 4.1% relative to 2011 as high cattle prices in recent years have encouraged producers to restock and expand their herds.

My Department does not keep records of the annual cost of keeping a suckler cow. Teagasc data, however shows there is a considerable variation in this figure depending on the level of efficiency of production on individual farms. Teagasc has indicated that the variable cost of maintaining a suckler cow and calf to weanling stage is between €400 on the more efficient farms to €550 on the less efficient ones. A further €350 to €450 per cow need to be added for fixed costs.

Under the National Farm Survey series Teagasc gave, in 2011, the average direct cost of production per hectare for Single Suckling enterprises ranged from €350 per hectare on those farms with the lowest average gross margin to €463 per hectare on the most profitable farms. The most profitable third of Single Suckling farms earned an average gross output of €1,013 per hectare compared with an average gross output of €451 per hectare on the least profitable one third of Single Suckling enterprises. This variability in average gross output is in large part due to the higher average stocking on the more profitable farms. These farms had an average stocking rate of 1.57 livestock units (LU) per hectare compared with only 1.03 LU per hectare for those farms with the lowest profitability.

In this context the primary focus of measures introduced by my Department is on improving the efficiency on farms through direct support and with the assistance of other agencies. These include initiatives such as the Beef Technology Adoption Programme (BTAP), which is designed to equip beef farmers with the knowledge to improve efficiency at farm level. Some €4.5 million was paid in 2012 to 4,800 farmers under the programme.

Also this year my Department recently launched the Beef Data Programme for which €10 million has been allocated in 2013. This new programme will assist farmers in improving the genetic quality of Irish cattle and will maintain the data flow into ICBF in order to build further knowledge and more rapid progress in breeding and ultimately in profitability for farmers. In addition my Department continues to support the work of ICBF in improving genetic quality in the beef herd. On the advisory side Teagasc provides a best practice model for suckler farmers with the expanded BETTER Beef Farm Programme and Bord Bia assists with the marketing of quality beef through their Beef Quality Assurance Scheme.

My Department and its agencies will continue to make every effort to assist the development of the beef sector in line with the Food Harvest 2020 Strategy.