I refer to the perfect storm for the agriculture sector, in particular the farm families who live in the shadow of Brexit, arising from delayed payments, the prospect of another harsh winter, a possible fodder shortage and unworkable land due to flooding. I welcome the review of areas of natural constraints, ANC, carried out recently and the additional funding of €23 million.
Unless there is additional funding to front-load payments, an increased payment rate per hectare and an increase in the number of eligible acres, this will not have the necessary effect of addressing the level of constraints experienced by farmers in marginal areas. The bottom line is that there needs to be further targeting of payments towards the areas with the highest level of natural constraint. Last Friday, I attended a meeting in County Mayo along with hundreds of farmers, which was organised by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association and at which all of these concerns were discussed. I was astounded that there was no Government representative or Fianna Fáil representative from County Mayo in attendance. Given the importance of the issue and the challenges facing the sector, the meeting should have been prioritised.
In the previous reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, we saw minimal redistribution as farmers with larger and higher payments were protected again. The forthcoming Common Agricultural Policy must right some of the wrongs of the past by ensuring that farmers can make a reasonable living while keeping the rural economy alive, promoting jobs and farming in the agricultural industries and associated sectors. Last year, Ireland made a commitment to provide extra funding for the CAP. I urge the Government to honour that commitment by making up any shortfall and ensuring that there is an annual budget in excess of €650 million.
The agricultural schemes need to be more accessible. The organic scheme that opened last week will close next week, on 19 December. Such a short application period excludes a large number of people who would like to participate in the scheme. The marginal land, which was not eligible for the green, low-carbon, agri-environment scheme, GLAS, could be suitable for this type of scheme. The livestock rate of 0.5 per unit is too high and the marking system of the scheme favours horticulture and dairy, which get 50 marks, while beef and sheep only get ten marks. This excludes many farmers. The Government needs to consider these schemes and find ways to make them more accessible.
I am gravely concerned about the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, participants because their last payment will be made this month and there are no plans to replace the scheme. These farmers stayed in the AEOS as GLAS was not viable for them. We need a new scheme because farmers who are in the scheme are facing a loss of between €3,000 and €4,000, which is an awful lot out of anybody's income. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House early in the new year to discuss all of these farming issues.