The details supplied refer to the Young Farmers Scheme, Forgotten Farmers and capital investment grants for young farmers.
With regard to the Young Farmers Scheme, EU Regulation 1307/2013 sets out the definition of a young farmer for the purposes of the scheme. A young farmer is clearly defined as a person who commenced their farming activity no more than five years prior to submitting their first Basic Payment Scheme application and who is no more than 40 years of age in the year of submission of such an application. My Department has no discretion in the implementation of this aspect of EU Regulation 1307/2013 and in this regard farmers who commenced their agricultural activity prior to 1 January 2010 are not eligible for the Young Farmers Scheme.
In respect of the Forgotten Farmer issue, the Regulations governing the operation of the National Reserve include an optional provision whereby Member States may use the National Reserve to allocate new entitlements at the national average level of approximately €185 or give a top-up on the value of existing entitlements to the national average value for persons who suffer from a specific disadvantage.
In the context of the discussions with the EU Commission in early 2015 regarding the inclusion of the group referred to as Old Young Farmers under the 2015 National Reserve, the Commission advised that the inclusion of groups under ‘Specific Disadvantage’ category of the National Reserve would require individual approval at EU level.
The National Reserve in 2017 was established using funding derived from a linear cut to the value of all farmers’ entitlements. EU Regulations pertaining to the National Reserve provide that the two categories of ‘young farmer’ and ‘new entrant to farming’ must receive priority access to the Reserve. In the context of the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government , Ireland consulted with the EU Commission regarding the possibility of including the group commonly referred to as Forgotten Farmers under the specific disadvantage category of the 2017 National Reserve. The EU Commission confirmed that Member States could not use the proceeds of a linear cut to fund a specific disadvantage category of the National Reserve.
The Commission confirmed at the time that the only funding option for the specific disadvantage category was natural replenishment of the Reserve, such as from unused entitlements or the proceeds of clawback, but only after the two priority categories of ‘young farmer’ and ‘new entrant to farming’ had been catered for.
EU Regulation 2393/2017 (Omnibus Regulation) came into effect in January 2018 and introduced a new possibility for the inclusion of ‘Specific Disadvantage’ categories such as Forgotten Farmers into the National Reserve. From 2018, Member States may use the proceeds of a linear cut to fund ‘Specific Disadvantage’ categories of the Reserve, but only if a linear cut is required to fund the two priority categories of ‘young farmer’ and ‘new entrant to farming’ in that particular year. As there was sufficient funding available in the National Reserve in 2018 and 2019 from natural replenishment of the fund in order to cater for the two priority categories, the issue of a linear cut did not arise.
All entitlements held under the Basic Payment Scheme are subject to convergence. Farmers who hold entitlements that have an Initial Unit Value that is below 90% of the Basic Payment Scheme national average have seen the value of their entitlements increase gradually over the five years of the scheme. By 2019, all entitlements for all farmers in Ireland are at least 60% of the national average value. In this regard, the group of farmers referred to as Forgotten Farmers will have benefitted from an increase in the value of their entitlements through convergence to 2019.
Decisions in relation to the National Reserve, including the basis of funding the Reserve, are made in consultation with the Direct Payments Advisory Committee which comprises members of the main farming organisations, farm advisory and education services.
With regard to eligibility for the Young Farmers Capital Investment Scheme, I am aware that there is a group of young farmers who established their holdings prior to 2008. A person in this category does not qualify under EU rules for the increased rate-of-aid of 60% available under the scheme. However, where possible priority is given to these affected farmers within the general stream of applicants for TAMS II, with grant-aid payable at 40%.