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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 12 Jul 2018

Vol. 971 No. 7

Other Questions

Fodder Crisis

I understand there is an agreement between Deputies McConalogue and Martin Kenny that we will take Question No. 7 first, as Deputy Kenny has another engagement.

Martin Kenny


7. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his Department is monitoring the level of fodder being harvested; his views on whether there will be an adequate amount of fodder harvested to replenish stocks that were completely depleted in spring 2018; his further views on whether there will be an issue in obtaining concentrate feed from both domestic and international sources due to poor harvests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31445/18]

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and apologise, as I must get away.

This question is similar to the one asked about fodder supplies. As we know, fodder stocks have been depleted since the spring and it looks as though we will have difficulty getting enough fodder for our animals over the next year. This also relates to Deputy Eamon Ryan's question on our animal stock. While I acknowledge the Minister's statement that he is monitoring the situation, including the counting about which Deputy Mattie McGrath was annoyed, we need to devise solutions. Is there work ongoing in terms of grass management in particular and allowing space for more fodder to be gleaned from farmers' paddocks?

I am aware of the impact of this dry spell on the availability of grass, both for grazing and as fodder, for next winter. On 26 June, I launched a national fodder census to be compiled by Teagasc through its client network, as well as clients of the other fodder group stakeholders, with another census planned for 1 September. The aim of the census is to monitor and measure the levels of fodder in the country and to inform any further action that may be necessary this autumn.

To address the weather challenges emerging last autumn, I asked Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, to work locally with affected farmers in areas with fodder difficulties, to support them on fodder budgeting and to identify sources of fodder nationally. I introduced two measures to support the availability of fodder to affected farmers and I expect payments to eligible farmers under the fodder transport support measure to commence this week.

To learn from the lessons of last winter and to plan for the coming one, I formed a representative group chaired by Teagasc and including stakeholders such as co-operatives, banks, farm bodies and others to co-ordinate advisory messages to farmers this summer around replenishing stocks that have been used up, as well as to manage grazing and fodder through this extended period of extraordinarily dry weather. The group has met on two separate occasions. I joined its second meeting by phone link to keep informed of its actions in support of livestock farmers affected by the dry conditions. The group is scheduled to meet again next week and to continue its work until the issue of securing adequate fodder supplies for next winter has been fully addressed. In addition, Teagasc has established a dedicated helpline to provide advice to farmers affected by the ongoing drought. This is being supplemented by a series of local meetings, where farmers can obtain direct support from Teagasc advisers on the spot.

Co-operatives and feed compounders represented on the group have increased feed output to meet demand and are engaged in accessing feed ingredients to meet current needs and to ensure adequate supplies of feed for the coming autumn and winter. Banking institutions are working closely with farmer customers on effective financial planning to see them through the current difficult spell.

I note the timely publication this morning of a report, Climate Change and Sustainability in the Agriculture and Food Sectors, by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In it, the committee recommends that readily available measures be put in place to assist farmers and rural communities in responding to the impact of extreme weather events. I agree that farmers should have access to measures that improve their resilience to these events. I have asked my officials to examine all available risk management tools to determine which may be most appropriate to the farming sector.

I thank the Minister. I understand that the group is meeting, monitoring the situation and measuring current needs. For most farmers, the solution will lie on their own farms. That message must get through. I have examined many cases. Many farmers around where I live let their stock out onto 20 acres for nine or ten weeks before taking them back in and moving them to another bit of ground. If they divided and managed their grassland better, though, they would need less pasturage and could put up to 20% into meadow in order that they might get more fodder for the winter. However, many farmers do not do that because it has not been their practice. We must try to make that good practice the norm.

To this end, the message needs to be sent from the high-level group that meets to discuss the matter to the farmyard. Perhaps through the knowledge transfer scheme, a particular focus could be placed on grassland management and fodder provision over the coming months. There is no use in doing it once the crisis hits. It is now we need to do it if we are to have the work done for the future.

The Deputy has made an invaluable point. A number of livestock farmers are in that position, where stocking density is not as high as it might be on intensive outputs and there is an opportunity for them not to compromise their current production levels but to have a fodder cash crop that could be availed of by others nationally. Many such farmers are in low-income sectors anyway. This type of messaging is what we are trying to send through Teagasc and the co-operatives, but those farmers are unfortunately harder to reach than others. They are not the ones who are participating in, for example, the knowledge transfer scheme, where such advice would have delivered better grassland management and paddock arrangements were it heeded. The farmers could even close up portions of their pasturage for a light cut. At this point, every opportunity must be taken. We are trying to get this important message out through the stakeholder group.

There are also opportunities for some farmers who have low stocking densities and, with slightly better grassland management, could have a cash crop on their hands that would enable them to meet their own fodder requirements while also helping others.

There is another element to that. It relates to something that Deputy Eamon Ryan mentioned earlier or which certainly was mentioned at our meeting in Newbridge. I am referring to Origin Green and the high level of importation of feed. We need to reach the point of depending less on imported proteins and using more of the meals and grains produced in Ireland.

This brings me to a connected point. We are having a hot summer, which will lead to depleted grain yields in many places. That will have an impact on concentrates next winter and the options that will be available to farmers. The main point in this discussion, and one that needs to go out in a message, is that farmers need to take more responsibility for trying to manage their own grassland better to get more fodder from it.

Regarding the feed that farmers have to buy in, there must be public policy measures to ensure that as much of that feed as possible is grown in Ireland.

If Origin Green should mean anything, it should mean that not only the food produced in Ireland but the feed and inputs going into that food are Irish. That will help to ensure nobody can attack the product we produce in Ireland, as has happened in the past.

The Deputy is right that we are significantly dependent on imported protein sources for compound feed. If my figures are correct, it is currently some 3 million tonnes and I do not believe we will ever be in a situation where we can substitute 100% of that volume of imports. Nonetheless, I take the Deputy's point. In the context of the winter ahead and the likely requirement given current feeding patterns, it would be prudent for compounders and co-ops to make arrangements in regard to forward purchasing, which is very important.

On the tillage side, and on a point alluded to earlier by Deputy Cahill in regard to spring barley, it appears likely that some of that crop will be of very low quality. Our information is that this will apply to a minority of the crop but there may be opportunities for whole-crop silage rather than proceeding to tillage, where the yield in terms of tonnage of grain and straw would be low, whereas the feed value may be of higher benefit. I believe that needs to be looked at for the winter ahead, as well as the opportunities in regard to other crops like kale or turnips.

We revert to Question No. 6.

Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme Review

Charlie McConalogue


6. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the ANC review with regard to redesignation using a set list of biophysical criteria; if the new approach must be introduced from January 2019; if mapping of all current ANC lands has been completed; the actions that have been completed to date by officials; the actions that remain outstanding; the timeframe for remaining actions; when the final ANC data will be submitted to the European Commission in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31071/18]

I want to ask about the current position of the review of the areas of natural constraint scheme, which we are obliged to undertake along with all other countries across the EU. Obviously, we are aware a one-year extension was granted last year in order to supply the maps and to introduce the new review system. We would appreciate hearing the current position and the timeline from here on.

Under EU regulations, less favoured and disadvantaged areas were to be replaced by newly designated areas of natural constraint, ANCs, from 2018, with eligible areas being designated using a set list of biophysical criteria such as soil drainage, texture and slope. However, as part of legislative amendments at EU level, a proposal was made to extend the 2018 deadline to 2019 on an optional basis. This proposal has been approved at EU level, along with a number of other regulatory changes in what is referred to as the “omnibus proposal”.

My Department has commenced work on this project and relevant technical experts are currently working on analysing the data in regard to the new biophysical criteria. In addition to the technical work on the biophysical criteria, the regulation allows for two linked processes designed to enable further targeting of support under the scheme. These processes are called fine-tuning and the identification of areas of specific constraint. The three processes are under way in parallel to each other and once complete will provide the basis for the identification of eligible areas in the ANC scheme from 2019 onwards.

In order to progress this work, my Department is in ongoing communication with the European Commission in regard to the accepted parameters and technical aspects of the project. Any change to the ANC scheme on foot of this process will require formal agreement with the European Commission via an amendment of Ireland's rural development programme 2014-20.

I take it from the Minister's response that there is no prospect of a further delay being sought by the Minister or by others at European level in the coming months and that the process is expected to be completed by 1 January next year. With regard to the where the Department is at, have the maps been fully completed? I would have thought they would be complete, given we were originally working towards a deadline of the start of the current year. From the information the Minister currently has to hand, will he give us an update in regard to the impact the new biophysical criteria are having on those areas that are currently designated?

There are two key concerns coming from the farming community. First, those who are currently availing of the ANC payment are very concerned that they would continue to avail of it. Second, those who have particularly high constraints on their land are keen to ensure there is a proper payment that reflects the type of constraint they have to deal with in their farming. What options is the Minister considering with regard to the fine-tuning of the specific constraints? Will the idea of output and productivity of land play any role in regard to designation?

On the latter point, designation primarily has to do with the biophysical criteria. The Deputy asked whether we are looking for an extension. I am not at this stage contemplating a further extension. The obligation is to have this finalised so that, when farmers make their application for the 2019 basic payment scheme, this is all concluded.

The Deputy made a point about payment for constraint, which is very important. As he will be aware, rather than taking a scatter-gun approach when we had an additional €25 million to allocate in this year's budget, we made a focused application our priority in order that those who have the most constraint will benefit the most from it.

Can we have further detail on the Minister's position with regard to what specific constraints he is considering currently and the criteria for those? In addition, will the issue of the productivity and output of land be a factor in regard to whether an area qualifies for ANC payments?

As part of the Fianna Fáil delegation to Brussels this week, Deputy Cahill and I met with members of the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, which is dealing with the overall ANC criteria, for a discussion in this regard. We expressed some concerns, for example, where drained land has improved in terms of output and productivity as a result of the effort of farmers, that there would be capacity to ensure farmers are not penalised for the efforts they have put in and will continue to put in. The other issue discussed was what happens in other countries where, for example, poor land is producing grapes and wine and is productive in that sense. We certainly got the impression that output and productivity will be a factor and may form part of this process. Obviously, farmers want clarity. Is it a factor that will be considered here at domestic level? Will the Minister clarify whether it is under consideration?

I should have said at the outset that my ambition is to try to ensure that those who have a payment retain the payment and that those who would have felt aggrieved, given a number of pockets of the country felt aggrieved with the previous process, can find a solution in this context. That is not an easy objective but it is my opening position.

The Deputy asked about areas with specific constraints. Areas can be designated as eligible for payment under the scheme on the basis of a combination of biophysical criteria, to which we alluded earlier, meeting certain thresholds where one criterion on its own has not led to the area being designated as eligible, or of a case being made that eligibility for the scheme is necessary to conserve or improve the environment, maintain the countryside, preserve the tourism potential of the area or protect the coastline. Those are the kinds of specific constraints that can be invoked to retain or include somebody in the refinement process.

Will productivity and output play a role?

It does not make any reference to it.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Suckler Welfare Scheme Payments

Bobby Aylward


9. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the level of direct support for the suckler cow herd will be increased to €200 per cow under the next CAP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31481/18]

Examination of appropriate measures to support all agri-food sectors, including the suckler sector, is under way in my Department in preparation for the next iteration of the CAP. The measures adopted will be informed by stakeholder consultation on the needs of the sector to develop in an economically and environmentally sustainable way, as well as the available budget and structure of the new CAP when it is finalised.

The beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, is currently the main support specifically targeted for the suckler sector and provides Irish beef farmers with some €300 million in funding over the current rural development programme period. This scheme is an agri-environmental measure to improve the environmental sustainability of the national suckler herd by increasing genetic merit within the herd.

My Department has rolled out a range of schemes as part of the €4 billion rural development programme up to 2020.

In addition to the beef data genomics programme, BDGP, other supports available for suckler farmers under Pillar 2 of the CAP include the green low-carbon agri-environment, GLAS, and areas of natural constraint, ANC, schemes and knowledge transfer groups. Suckler farmers also benefit from the basic payment scheme and greening payments under Pillar 1 of CAP.

I am strongly of the view that the current range of supports available to suckler farmers, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate supports for the continued development of the sector. National farm survey data suggests that suckler farmers receive support equivalent to approximately €500 per suckler cow on average.

I will continue to argue for as strong a CAP budget as possible post 2020. I am committed to ensuring that suckler farmers continue to receive strong support in the next CAP. It is of note that the current draft proposals make provision for coupled payments under Pillar 1. However, as envisaged in the current draft and as was the case in the current round, any coupled payment would require a corresponding decrease in the funding available for the basic payment.

My view is that payments should support and encourage suckler farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve the profitability and economic and environmental efficiency of their farming system.

I tabled this question to highlight the necessity of prioritising the suckler sector through targeted supports for farmers who are under threat on many fronts. Although our farmers are well known for producing some of the best beef in the world, they continue to depend exclusively on CAP direct payments for their livelihood and have an average income of just under €13,000, according to recent figures provided by Teagasc.

In recent years, Fianna Fáil has campaigned for a €200 payment policy for the suckler cow herd but Fine Gael has continually turned a blind eye to that proposal. The Government is underestimating the importance of supporting the national suckler herd and the farmers and rural communities who rely on the sector. The national suckler cow herd, comprising almost 1 million animals, is a vital component of Ireland’s rural economy and a wealth enabler, with every €1 of support provided to suckler farmers generating over €4 of economic activity in rural villages, towns and parishes according to research carried out by University College Dublin, UCD, on behalf of the Irish Farmers Association, IFA. Suckler farm families underpin annual Irish beef exports worth €2.5 billion. In light of the threats Brexit and a potential Mercosur deal pose to the income of suckler farmers, the Government must immediately seek European Union recognition of the danger for suckler farmers and request the necessary funding supports.

The Department underspent by €106 million in 2016 and €78 million in 2017. That substantial amount of money should be used to support the vital suckler cow industry.

I thank the Deputy. I am unsure whether he is a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine which in its report published today addresses continued support for the BGDP as a measure to support the suckler sector and which, interestingly, in the context of climate change, recommends that I promote all schemes and practices orientated toward the goal of carbon neutrality. In the context of the cross-party support of the committee for the BGDP, I do not agree with the proposal for a coupled payment for one million suckler cows which would cost €200 million per annum and may drive numbers at the expense of the quality being promoted through BGDP.

The Department has overspent rather than underspent under the rural development programme. Unless the Deputy proposes closing a current scheme, I do not see how the proposed coupled payment of €200 per sucker cow would be funded. That is the missing chapter in the proposals of the Deputy or others who promote that payment.

The big challenge we are facing is the juggernaut of climate change. If we promote numbers at the expense of quality, that will be made more difficult.

We need the suckler cow industry and I have pointed out why we need to support it. It is one thing to discuss the cost of the carbon footprint and so on but how does that argument fit into the proposed importation of beef from Brazil, Argentina or elsewhere to Europe to subsidise what could be produced here? It is nonsense. The Minister discussed maintaining a viable farming suckler cow scheme. If we do not support such schemes, the sector will collapse because farmers are not making enough money to survive. The Minister knows that, as do I. We must provide support. Every €1 of support provided to suckler farmers generates over €4 of economic activity in rural villages, towns and parishes. That makes economic sense. There is an underspend of money in the Department.

That money should be used to maintain an industry which is very important to this country. If we do not support it, then it will disappear. The dairy industry has been going well but the beef industry is under severe pressure. All Deputies know that.

If the Deputy is predicating this scheme on an alleged underspend in the Department, I invite him to read the record of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine, before which I outlined in detail-----

The facts are there.

-----that we do not have an underspend in the rural development programme. We are over-committed by approximately €100 million over its lifetime. If the Deputy's case is entirely predicated on the underspend, it is obvious that the case he is promoting is based on foundations of sand. I acknowledge and share his view and that of most Members that the suckler cow is the backbone of the beef industry and we must find ways to ensure that those who are most challenged within that sector get more supports. That is a priority in the context of the next round of CAP.

The Deputy stated that there should be a coupled payment of €200 per suckler cow, at a total cost of €200 million. He has not stated how he would square that circle in the context of the overspend on the rural development programme. His calculations do not add up.

Brexit Supports

Charlie McConalogue


10. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the operational details of the various Brexit loan schemes announced in the budget for farmers, fishermen and food businesses in 2018; when it will open for applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31070/18]

The Minister will recall the announcement made in last year's budget in regard to a Brexit loan scheme to help farmers, small and medium enterprises and those in the agrifood sector prepare for the threat of a hard or soft Brexit. I ask the Minister to update the House on progress on that loan scheme and to clarify whether the size of the fund has been established and the percentage of it that will go to farmers. It will be long past the announcement of the next budget before anyone has the opportunity to draw down a loan from a fund which is supposed to help prepare for Brexit, which must take place by March of next year.

One of my priorities is to improve access to finance for the agrifood sector. Food Wise 2025 identifies competitiveness as a key theme and includes a recommendation that stakeholders work to “improve access to finance for agriculture, forestry and seafood producers and agrifood companies”.

I launched a new Brexit loan scheme on 28 March in co-operation with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, which will provide up to €300 million of affordable, flexible working capital finance to Irish businesses that are or will be impacted by Brexit. The scheme will be available to small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and mid-cap businesses. In light of the unique exposure of food businesses to the United Kingdom market, my Department’s funding ensures that at least 40% of the fund will be available to them. The finance will be easier to access, more competitively priced at a proposed interest rate of 4% and on more favourable terms than current offerings. This will give businesses impacted upon by Brexit businesses time and space to adapt and grow into the future. The scheme will remain open until 31 March 2020. It is modelled on the agriculture cashflow support loan scheme which I made available to farmers in 2017.

I announced in budget 2018 that my Department is considering the development of Brexit response loan schemes for farmers and fishermen and longer-term capital financing for food businesses. Such schemes are developed and delivered in co-operation with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, and take time to develop and put into operation. Consideration and discussions are ongoing in that regard and I will announce further details as they become available.

While continuing to explore additional funding mechanisms, I also liaise with the main banks on issues relating to the agrifood sector. All of the banks have specialised products available and expressed a commitment to servicing the future financing needs of the sector. The delivery of the Brexit loan scheme and last year’s agriculture cashflow support loan scheme can act as a catalyst to encourage financial institutions to improve and develop new loan products for the sector. The milk flex loans developed by the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, with dairy co-op and private banking participation, are a good example of innovation in this regard.

On the funding announced by the Minister in budget 2018 and in light of the proximity of Brexit and the priority which must be given to responding to the threats and challenges it will present, for the Minister to come to the House and tell us that putting these loans together takes time and they will not be launched for some time is unacceptable in the context of the challenge facing Irish businesses and farmers.

The announcement that the funding would be put in place was made in October 2017. We are not far away from the point at which we will be a year on from that with the fund yet to be set up and accessible to farmers. Can the Minister provide the House with a clear outline as to when the funds will be available to be drawn down and accessed and when the fund will be open for applications? It has been a failure on the part of the Minister that a measure for which there is a great need has not been made available to farmers and small businesses.

Our track record in the context of the objectives set out in Food Wise 2025 strategy is strong. We had a €150 million loan scheme for farmers lending at 2.95%, we had the €300 million loan scheme and we are working on the detail of the next schemes which will make funds available to farmers for investment purposes. It is a significant start. There are a lot of moving parts in this. It is not solely an issue of the Department developing the product. A number of critical partners are involved, including parties with which we are negotiating at EU level. Those negotiations are complex and protracted and getting all parties to move on the design of the scheme simultaneously is challenging. In due course, this will also involve the participation of financial institutions in Ireland to deliver the product. I have always said it would be the second half of 2018 and I am still working to that deadline. I would like to have it as early as possible but I do not see it happening in the coming weeks. However, we are working on the detail.

I note that the Minister said he had seen the Irish Farmers' Journal this week. He will have seen how the SBCI clarified in a response to the IFA that it did not see farmers being able to access the loan scheme until March next year at the earliest. That is the first half of next year. We know it is complicated to put a loan scheme together, but it pales in significance to the complexity for businesses of meeting the challenge of Brexit. Surely, it should not have been beyond the Minister to have got everyone together to ensure this tool, which he announced in this year's budget, would be put in place and made available to farmers. Brexit will have taken place by the time some farmers are able to access this fund. Can the Minister clarify whether the report in the Irish Farmers' Journal is correct that it will be after March 2019 before farmers can access the fund?

I do not always believe every headline I read in the Irish Farmers' Journal.

Can the Minister make more of a comment than that?

As I said earlier, our track record is that we have delivered two products to the market, one totalling €300 million earlier this year and a previous one totalling €150 million, and we are working on the third product. I have always said it would be the second half of 2018 before the product would be delivered.

Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme Review

Martin Kenny


11. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the redesignation of areas of natural constraint, ANC, land; his plans to increase the ANC in budget 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31447/18]

I ask Deputy Stanley to forego the first 30 seconds because we have made little progress.

Less favoured and disadvantaged areas were to be replaced under EU regulation by newly designated ANCs from 2018, with eligible areas being designated using a set list of biophysical criteria such as soil drainage, texture and slope. However, as part of legislative amendments at EU level, a proposal was made to extend the 2018 deadline to 2019 on an optional basis. This proposal has been approved at EU level along with a number of other regulatory changes in what is referred to as the "omnibus proposal". My Department has commenced work on this project and relevant technical experts are currently working on analysing the data relating to the new biophysical criteria. In addition to the technical work on the biophysical criteria, the regulation allows for two linked processes designed to enable further targeting of support under the scheme. These processes are referred to as fine-tuning and the identification of areas of specific constraint. These three process are under way in parallel with each other and, once complete, will provide the basis for the identification of eligible areas in the ANC scheme from 2019 onwards. To progress this work, my Department is in ongoing communication with the EU Commission on the accepted parameters and technical aspects of the project. Any change to the ANC scheme on foot of this process will require formal agreement with the EU Commission via an amendment of Ireland's rural development programme for 2014 to 2020.

I am aware of the importance of the ANC scheme, which issues annual payments in excess of €200 million to more than 95,000 farmers. In light of this, I was happy to confirm earlier this year that an additional €25 million has been allocated to the scheme for 2018. Following careful consideration of the options for allocating this money, it was decided to target a higher proportion of the money at those farmers in the categories which are deemed to face higher levels of constraint. This is in keeping with the existing logic of the scheme. Thus the total allocations for each land category being increased as follows:

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

A sum of €13 million will be allocated to the mountain type land category; €9 million will be allocated to the more severely handicapped category, and €3 million will be allocated to the less severely handicapped category. This additional allocation delivers on the commitment in the programme for a partnership Government to increase the funding for the scheme. The required process to amend the rural development programme in agreement with the EU Commission to take account of this new funding is well under way.

The review of the scheme is important and it was to be done and dusted this year. The Minister has clarified that it will now be 2019. Can he clarify if that is 1 January 2019 or if it means it will be completed in the course of next year? The important point is to ensure the existing areas are retained. The Minister mentioned the budget, which was cut to €200 million having originally been €250 million. I acknowledge that he has increased it to €225 million this year, which is welcome. While the scheme is beneficial, it contains certain anomalies. It is an important scheme in my constituency of Laois-Offaly. The criteria at the moment are socio-economic but there are quirks in that which have caused problems. For example, a townland south of Ballacolla around Woodenbridge is surrounded by a mini-version of the Golden Vale, with which the Minister will be familiar, but there is a pocket of farms in the middle of that on wet land due to the presence of a number of rivers, including the Goul and the Erkina, which flood every year for a number of months. I ask the Minister to look at parts of that. Clonterry on the Laois-Offaly border and Garryhinch along the Barrow are other areas which need to be included. This is a crucial scheme. The new criteria consider soil, rainfall, mountainous land and stony land, which is welcome because it will be more scientific than the old townland basis for inclusion. While 60% of a townland may be prosperous, the rest may not be but it will have been left out of the scheme to date.

On the dates involved, the obligation is to conclude this by the time farmers make applications for their 2019 basic payments. The January deadline is not the critical one. The requirement is to conclude this before farmers make their online applications for 2019. I note the Deputy's point about the budget. We allocated an additional €25 million in this year's budget and I appreciate that there is still a shortfall to make up for the cuts to ANC payments imposed by the previous Fianna Fáil Government. Any consideration in that regard is subject to budgetary negotiations. I note also the Deputy's points about specific parts of his own constituency. I visited one of the higher profile demonstration farms in the constituency recently and was surprised to find it was in a disadvantaged area. I appreciate that there are anomalies within the current system and opportunities to address them in the context of the process which is under way.

The Minister's contribution is welcome. I hope he will seek to add the €25 million which was cut from the scheme a number of years ago. It is a good payment because it goes directly to the farmer who has discretion as to how to use it to improve and maintain his or her holding and business. I am glad to hear the Minister will examine areas such as Clonterry, Garryhinch and the areas south of Ballacolla to iron out some of the anomalies and improve the scheme. I hope that happens. It appears from what the Minister said that the change will be made at the point when farmers are putting in their applications later in the year.

I concur with the Deputy that the payment is of huge significance to all farmers but it is of even greater import for those with a higher level of constraint.

In the context of the additional €25 million, that is why we skewed the payment to make sure those with higher disadvantage got a higher payment. For example, €13 million will be allocated to the mountain type category, €9 million to the more severely handicapped category and €3 million to the less severely handicapped category. That has been welcomed by farm organisations and it is recognised that it is targeting the resources available. Should additional resources become available, it is my intention that template will be replicated. I want to be clear on the deadline. It is for the 2019 basic payment. That is when this has to be clarified so that when people are submitting their applications the Department will have details of their holding.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.