Thursday, 6 December 2018

Ceisteanna (2)

Martin Kenny


2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the proposed good agricultural and environmental conditions for the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51346/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I ask the Minister about the good agricultural and environmental conditions that are proposed to come forward in the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, which I understand will replace what were considered to be the greening measures in the past, and if he will make a statement on the matter.

In June 2018, the European Commission published the legislative proposals for the CAP post 2020. The proposals recognise the role agriculture has to play in helping member states achieve their environmental and climate change targets. In this context, a significant feature of the proposals is the increased environmental ambition for the CAP post 2020. The new CAP reform proposals require member states to set out their approach on environmental issues in the new CAP strategic plans.

There a number of new approaches to addressing environmental issues through the CAP including: three of the nine key objectives set for the CAP post 2020 concern the environment; the ex ante assessment for the plan must incorporate a strategic environmental assessment; the proposals include greater environmental conditionality on EU payments with links to requirements such as the water framework directive and proposals for mandatory nutrition management plans; 40% of the overall CAP budget must contribute to climate mainstreaming; member states must make schemes available as part of the direct payments that provide additional supports for eco schemes which go beyond the increased statutory management requirements and good agricultural and environmental conditions; nationally, 30% of the rural development programme expenditure, excluding payments for areas of natural constraints, must be focused on biodiversity-environment-climate related measures; and non-compliance with statutory management requirements and standards for good agricultural and environmental conditions of land in the areas of climate and environmental health, public health, animal health, plant health and animal welfare will require an administrative penalty.

Detailed proposals for new good agricultural and environmental conditions and statutory management requirements were included as part of the draft regulations published by the Commission last June, and I have arranged that the detailed list to be forwarded directly to the Deputy. There are ten good agricultural and environmental conditions, GAECs, covering a range of issues, including permanent grassland, protection of wetland and peatland, and nutrient management plans. There are 16 proposed statutory management requirements. These concern compliance with a number of directives, including the water framework directive, the nitrates directive, and the directive on the conservation of wild birds.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I firmly support the principle that there must be a high level of environmental ambition in the CAP post 2020. I believe that protecting the environment and the sustainable development of agriculture go hand in hand. However, it is essential that the new environmental conditionality is implemented effectively, with common standards that are relevant and effective.

In addition, I believe that farmers play a vital role in the provision of public goods and need to be adequately recognised and recompensed for this role. It is important that the overall level of the budget acknowledges the public goods being delivered from farmers. This places a particular focus on environmental aspects of CAP.

The Minister's answer is quite vague in respect of many of these issues. Some of the aspects that concern many farmers are that the conditions that will be set out in these proposals will be ones they would normally have seen coming through the environmental programme such as GLAS, REPS or other schemes in the past. If they are to be taken up in Pillar 1, farmers are concerned about what will be in Pillar 2, which may be more extreme or onerous on them than what they have had until now.

I would like more information on the protection of wetlands, peatlands and so on. That would have a major impact, particularly on farmers with poorer quality, marginal and mountain-type land where they find it very difficult to make a living. If more hardships are to be placed on them in terms of those kinds of environmental protections, they need to see that they will get an adequate return for that, in other words, that they are paid for the public good they provide by the way they already farm. That is not too much to ask. If this is something that will be just a condition of Pillar 1, those conditions will be for everybody. Extra emphasis will be put on those farmers, and that needs to be paid for in terms of the public good they provide. They need to see that there is a clear avenue for that to happen.

Our objective is to make the new Common Agricultural Policy as user-friendly as possible but within the context of the clear direction of travel, which is to have a Common Agricultural Policy that is far greener in its hue and assists us in meeting many of the challenging obligations we face, especially in the area of climate change. It is true that much of the landscape management in which farmers are involved, particularly in the more marginal lands to which the Deputy referred, should be recognised for what it is. It is not intensive agricultural activity. The requirement for things like nutrient management plans is not as obvious as it is in areas of intensive agriculture.

Being able to devise a structure, an ultimate policy, across Pillars 1 and 2 that will recognise the public goods that are delivered by certain sections of the farming community which are not involved in intensive agriculture and that are delivering huge gains in terms of biodiversity, water quality, climate change and so on, is an objective we share. We are acutely conscious of the CAP context.

Being conscious of it is different from making sure there will be money to back it up, which is what we want. That is the clear ambition of farmers and what they deserve to have. The fear among them, particularly those working on more marginal land and land that is difficult to farm, is that all of these environmental measures will be left to them and that in other parts of the country where there is what we would call more productive land the tasks to deal with the environmental impact of climate change will be less onerous. We need balance. In much of the north west where we see a huge amount of forestry and a strong emphasis on biodiversity, greening and so on, farmers consider they are doing this to make up for what is happening in other areas where there is intensive farming. While that is not to say there is anything wrong with intensive farming, there is a need for a sense of balance. Farmers need to be provided with an assurance that they will be remunerated for the work they do in that type of farming.

I would like to be able to reassure the Deputy that the final outcome will meet the objectives to which he aspires. The onus and obligation will be greatest on those involved in intensive agricultural activity, where the challenge to the landscape, the emissions profile and so on is far greater than for those involved in a less intensive agricultural activity. That is logical. It is right and proper that the greater focus, in the context of sustainability and the CAP, be on those engaged in more intensive agricultural activity. The big challenge is the budget, as the Deputy noted, and it will not be resolved easily. As the Deputy is aware, the current proposals envisage a substantial reduction across Pillars 1 and 2 in the order of €45 million for each of them each year. That is something on which we are also focused.