Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation), Member States were required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. Previously, 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
In tandem with the process to designate relevant lands under these biophysical criteria, Member States were also required to undertake a fine tuning process. This process was required to identify areas where significant natural constraints were identified with reference to the above-listed biophysical criteria, but where objective criteria, such as arable land use or stocking density levels, would indicated that these constraints have been overcome.
Finally, Member States could also identify areas for inclusion as Areas of Specific Constraint where it is necessary for land management to be continued in order to conserve or improve the environment, to maintain the countryside, to preserve the tourist potential of the area, or to protect the coastline.
This three-phased process was a lengthy project, involving protracted technical engagements with the EU DG for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Joint Research Centre in the EU Commission. The technical process was completed in late 2018 and, at that time, further to a series of consultation meetings with key stakeholders, I published full details in relation to the outcome of the review project, which can be summarised as follows. The vast majority of land that was eligible under the existing Scheme remains 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 independently chaired Appeals Committee was appointed to examine any requests received by my Department for a full review on the status of a townland under the 2019 ANC Scheme. This process is currently under way and it is anticipated that the process will be completed in the coming weeks.