The 2013 Disadvantaged Areas Scheme, as already announced, is focussed on the protection of the smaller and most disadvantaged. It must also be borne in mind that the minimum stocking density requirement is equivalent to one ewe per eligible forage hectare and can not in any way be regarded as onerous. It will be recalled that, in response to budgetary realities, it was decided to re-focus the Scheme, with greater consideration been given to those contributing most to achieving the aims of the Scheme, which are:
- Ensuring continued agricultural land use, thereby contributing to the maintenance of a viable rural society;
- Maintaining the countryside;
- Maintaining and promoting sustainable farming systems, which, in particular, take account of environmental protection requirements.
Given the restrictions faced by those farming in recognised Disadvantaged Areas and mindful of the aims of the Scheme, as outlined, it will be readily appreciated that appropriate stocking levels are crucial. In this regard, balance must be struck between the need to ensure that at least the minimum is done to ensure the land is adequately utilised and grazed, while at the same time being sufficiently aware of the natural constraints. In this regard, it is clear that the minimum stocking levels currently set under the Scheme achieve this twin objective. Thus, the terms of the 2013 Scheme remain as previously announced. Farmers with genuine fodder-related stocking difficulties may avail of the force majeure provisions of the Scheme.