Rural Development Policy

Questions (13)

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

13. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he or his Department have had recent discussions with colleagues in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on protection of habitats on agricultural land; their implications for landowners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13073/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department is engaged in ongoing consultations with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in relation to the design of the new agri-environmental schemes under the terms of the Rural Development Programme. These new schemes will offer farmers the opportunity to undertake enhanced environmental actions to protect important habitats and species on agricultural land. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has primary responsibility for the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives and therefore the input of that Department is critical to the design of a successful suite of measures under the overall heading of GLAS (Green Low-carbon Agri-environment Scheme).

I announced details of the new GLAS and GLAS+ Scheme on 14 January 2014 as part of a suite of proposed measures under the new Rural Development Programme. The GLAS Scheme will provide significant funding to farmers who undertake environmental actions in line with national and EU environmental objectives. It will contribute to the overall public good and will build on the success of previous agri-environment schemes.

The entire Rural Development Programme must be submitted to the European Commission for approval. In advance of this my Department must undertake a public consultation, an ex ante evaluation, a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), a needs assessment, a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and an appropriate assessment (AA), as part of the development of the Programme. An independent evaluator has been contracted to prepare the ex ante evaluation report, SEA and AA and to advise on the SWOT analysis. An initial round of consultation with stakeholders took place in 2013 and written submissions were received. On the basis of these, and taking account of the requirements of the Council Regulation, an outline of the GLAS Scheme was developed and published in the Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020 Draft Consultation Programme on 14 January, 2014, seeking submissions by 19 February, 2014. These submissions, in addition to ongoing consultation with stakeholders such as the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, will inform final decisions on measures to be included in the new GLAS and GLAS+ Scheme.

Drainage Schemes Status

Questions (14)

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

14. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he and his officials have considered measures to assist those landowners who clear water channels to improve drainage and thereby reduce the risk of flooding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13074/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The new EU policy framework setting out the broad principles in relation to rural development for the 2014-2020 period has now been finalised. My Department is currently considering the comments received from the various stakeholders in response to the consultation paper which was published by my Department in January 2014.

The consultation paper sets out a number of priorities in the case of on-farm investment schemes under the new Programme, including further support to encourage investment in the dairy sector due to the forthcoming abolition of milk quotas, an enhanced scheme of grant-aid for young farmers with a special grant-rate of 60 per cent, and a new farm building measure which will provide grant-aid for the construction of animal housing and slurry storage.

My Department considered the possibility of putting forward a targeted farm drainage scheme for EU Commission approval within the context of the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme, but concluded that too many issues of an environmental, financial and administrative nature would have to be overcome in proposing such a scheme as a priority measure under the new Programme. My Department’s consultation paper states that further targeted areas may be identified within the lifetime of the new Programme as appropriate for grant-aid and the issue of a drainage scheme will be borne in mind in that context.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme Eligibility

Questions (15)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

15. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if any changes are proposed to the rules pertaining to the disadvantaged area scheme in 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13076/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

It is widely recognised that the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is a very important one for this country, as the total area designated as disadvantaged is almost 75% of Ireland’s total land area. From an economic perspective, the Scheme is particularly significant, contributing to the support of some 95,000 Irish farm families, whose ability to farm is restricted by the physical environment and, in particular, the impact of the prevailing wet cold climatic conditions.

While the budgeted expenditure under the 2012 Scheme was reduced from €220 million to €190 million, I can confirm that the budget was subsequently increased to €195 million for the 2013 Scheme. Funding of the 2014 Scheme will be maintained at this level.

With regard to the funding reduction for the 2012 Scheme, prompted by the financial crisis, rather than simply apply an across the board cuts to all participants, it was decided to achieve the necessary saving in expenditure under the 2012 Scheme by making changes to the Scheme eligibility criteria. This was designed to focus the aid payment on farmers, whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in Less Favoured Areas and who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the Scheme. However, being particularly mindful that any proposed changes in scheme qualifying criteria, regardless of how focused and targeted their aim, would result in anomalies, specific provision was made for those farmers, whose stocking rates in 2011 were less than required, by putting in place a formal procedure to cater for all who considered that their inability to meet the revised scheme requirements was due to force majeure/exceptional circumstances. Those affected were invited to outline such details to this Department, with each case then being considered on its merits. The Scheme, which is co-funded by the EU, is an integral part of Ireland’s Rural Development Plan, 2007/2013, and as such, the changes to the 2012 Scheme criteria required the agreement of the EU Commission, which was sought and obtained.

While the Terms and Conditions governing the 2014 Disadvantaged Areas Scheme have yet to issue to farmers, I can confirm that there are no changes for 2014. The Terms and Conditions booklets are currently with the printers and it is envisaged that these will be posted to all farmers during the first week in April.

I should also point out, however, that maps have recently issued to all farmers, with the request that these be closely examined and any necessary changes notified to my Department as soon as possible. While recent media coverage has focused on the need for farmers to identify and remove ineligible areas, there are also cases where all eligible areas should be included - given the need to ensure the accuracy of my Department’s land parcel database, it is critical that farmers take the time to carefully scrutinise these maps and notify my Department of whatever changes are identified.

Food Harvest 2020 Strategy

Questions (16)

Martin Ferris

Question:

16. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in view of the drop in cattle prices, if he is confident that we can achieve our Food Harvest 2020 targets. [13209/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Food Harvest 2020 strategy for Ireland’s agri-food industry is the result of a collaborative approach to policy making and includes as it does for all sectors of the industry, a vision for the beef sector developed and agreed by stakeholders, including farm bodies and processors.

With regard to prices, it should be noted that Irish beef prices were 106% of the EU average in 2013. The average price change over the first 10 weeks of this year is an approximate 1.8% reduction but it must be remembered that it is common for prices to decrease slightly in the first quarter of any year. It should also be noted that with the exception of 2013 the prices paid in the first 10 weeks of 2014 for Irish cattle are comparable to 2012 and significantly in excess of prices paid from 2008-2011.Nevertheless it is clear that for some farmers with certain categories of animals prices have softened significantly in the first quarter of 2014.

The period since the publication in 2010 of Food Harvest 2020 has generally been characterised by increases in beef export values and cattle prices. It would be unrealistic to think that the vision laid down in Food Harvest would never be challenged by market or other conditions. However, to view the significant progress made in the beef sector in recent years as a result of the commitment of Government, farmers and other stakeholders, through the prism of the current market difficulties alone, would, in my view, do a disservice to all of the stakeholders in this critically important sector. The principles laid down in Food Harvest constitute a vision for the sector which I am confident remains valid, despite the current price and specification difficulties. I am committed to ensuring that the measures announced this year, and the new Rural Development Programme, provide the tools to enable beef farmers to reduce costs and improve profitability and to make their enterprises more sustainable.

In relation to the current difficulties between farmers and processors, the Deputy will appreciate that ultimately questions of price and market specification are matters to be determined between the purchasers and the sellers of cattle and it is neither appropriate nor possible for me to intervene directly on these issues. Nonetheless I recently met farmer representatives and processers to discuss the current situation. Following that interaction, I am hopeful that the factories, in collaboration with the farming bodies, will be able to resolve the various issues that have lately caused difficulties for some producers. At my request, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) member companies have kept their livestock offices open to deal with farmers with any particular queries or concerns on the marketing of their stock. MII member companies have made available contact details for each of their main plants to enable farmers to phone them directly.

As an indication of Government support for the sector, actions identified in Food Harvest and the subsequent Beef Activation Group Report as necessary for the development of the beef sector have been implemented. Indeed in 2014, I announced operational details of an investment package worth up to €40m to beef farmers in 2014. Among the measures in this investment package are €23m for a Beef Genomics Scheme, €10m for the Beef Data Programme, €5m for the Beef Technology Adoption Programme and €2m in residual payments under the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme. The Government’s investment is a strong vote of confidence in the beef sector.