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.
Rather than introducing changes to the maximum payable areas under the Scheme, these payment increases will be delivered as follows. The rate for Category 1 land (previously mountain type land) will increase to €148 per hectare for the first 12 hectares, with a rate of €112 for hectares 13 to 34. The rate for Category 2 land (previously more severe) will increase to €111 per hectare for the first 10 hectares, with a rate of €104 for hectares 11 to 30. The rate for Category 3 land (previously less severe) will increase to €93 per hectare for the first 8 hectares, with a rate of €88.25 for hectares 9 to 30.
Taking this increases together with the increases in place in 2018, the maximum annual payment under the Scheme will have increased from €3,400 in 2017 to €4,240 in 2019 for the farmers with the poorest land.
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.