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
- Excess soil moisture
- Limited soil drainage
- Unfavourable texture and stoniness
- Shallow rooting depth
- Poor chemical properties
- 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.
The outcome of the review project can be summarised as follows. The vast majority of land that was eligible under the existing Scheme will remain eligible under the new approach. Some 700 townlands that would have previously been eligible are not eligible under the new designation. Farmers impacted financially by this change will receive a degressive phasing out payment in 2019 and 2020. Over 2,000 townlands will now be eligible under the new approach and will be eligible to receive a payment for the first time in 2019.
An independent appeals process is now being put in place for any farmers who wish to appeal the status of a particular townland following this process. Farmers who hold land in townlands that are no longer eligible in 2019 are being written to, and included in this letter is an application form to begin the process of an appeal should they wish to take up this option. This form is also available on the Department's website. The appeals committee will be chaired independently, and will also have an independent technical expert on it. The details in this regard are currently being finalised.