Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation) Member States are required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. To date, my Department had been identifying eligible areas using a range of socio-economic indicators such as family farm income, population density, percentage of working population engaged in agriculture, and stocking density.
From 2019, eligible areas must instead be designated using the following list of bio-physical criteria: low temperature; dryness; excess soil moisture; limited soil drainage; unfavourable texture and stoniness; shallow rooting depth; poor chemical properties; and steep slope. This process has now been completed and in recent weeks I have published details in relation to the outcome and have completed a series of consultation meetings with key stakeholders.
In parallel to these changes to the 2019 Scheme, an additional €23m has been added to the Scheme budget for 2019. Approximately €12m of this money will be allocated to newly eligible lands in 2019, with approximately €1m being allocated to the phasing out payments in respect of lands no longer eligible from 2019. The remaining approximately €10m will be allocated as increased payment rates across all categories of land in the scheme. These increases will be targeted so as to deliver higher increases to those lands with the highest level of constraint.
All these changes require a formal amendment to the Rural Development Programme, and this process is now underway to ensure that the Scheme can open for application early in 2019.