Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation), Member States were required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. Previously, my Department had been identifying eligible areas using a range of socioeconomic indicators such as family farm income, population density, percentage of working population engaged in agriculture and stocking density. It was a requirement that from 2019, eligible areas must instead be designated using a defined list of bio-physical criteria such as slope, soil texture, soil rooting depth, soil moisture and drainage.
The ANC redesignation process was completed in December 2018 and the vast majority of land which was previously eligible under the ANC Scheme has remained eligible under the new approach. An additional 2,000 townlands became eligible to be considered for payment under the new approach and are eligible to receive a payment for the first time under the 2019 ANC scheme.
Some 700 townlands which would have previously been eligible are no longer eligible under the new designation. Farmers in townlands which are now no longer eligible under the new designation will receive a degressive phasing out payment in 2019 and 2020.
My Department wrote to all farmers holding ANC lands advising them of the status of these lands under the 2019 ANC scheme and advised of their right to appeal this position. Where a farmer notified my Department of their wish to make such an appeal, they have been provided with all relevant information in relation to the data underpinning the status of the specified townland in order that an appeal to the independently chaired Appeals Committee can be based on full information.
Farmers wishing to partake in the 2019 ANC scheme were required to submit their applications for the scheme via the Department’s online Basic Payment Scheme application facility. Applications were required to be submitted by the 15th of May 2019.
Payments under the 2019 ANC scheme commenced, on schedule, during the week commencing 16th September 2019 with 79,000 farmers being paid €168.5 million. This was an increase of 2,000 farmers on the opening payments in September 2018. In accordance with the amendments to the scheme as required under EU regulations, this payment represented an advance payment at a rate of 85%. The issue of the 15% balancing payment will commence in December of this year.
Overall funding for the scheme has been increased by €23million bringing the total overall budget for the scheme up to €250m. Payments continue on a twice weekly basis for cases which successfully fulfil the scheme eligibility criteria. To date some 84,000 farmers have received payments totalling €180m.