Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president Gabriel Gilmartin has lashed out at “faceless bureaucrats in the EU” who are enforcing the land parcel eligibility reductions.
“The red-lining of land parcels which deems areas ineligible with any level of scrub, trees or other imperfections is driving farmers into a corner. Farmers feel the only solution will be to bulldoze, burn or remove any tree, bush, gorse or other species, which does not conform to the new EU fashion that insists on bland wall-to-wall open prairie grazing or arable land.”
According to Mr Gilmartin, “it is beyond credibility that this dictat is being enforced while EU bureaucrats have the nerve to talk about green, multifunctional agriculture and boast about bio-diversity. Meanwhile, in practice, whole swathes of land, particularly in the west of Ireland, are being red-lined and the signal from Europe could not be clearer: biodiverse landscapes need to be eliminated or you will suffer savage multi-annual cuts to your single payment. Ironically, farmers are also having their AEOS payments cut, even though AEOS is all about planting trees and hedges and maintaining species-rich grassland.”
“I cannot understand why the EU commission is now demanding featureless landscapes. They seem to want a model of agriculture like the Ukrainian wheat fields that go on for miles without a tree to be seen. Commission President Barrosso needs to explain why he wants this policy. EU agriculture ministers have been asleep at the wheel in allowing this environmentally disastrous policy to be ruthlessly enforced.”
“The policy is especially severe in marginal land where farmers have built up entitlements by farming against the odds and contributing to feeding the EU population. However, we are also aware of cases where single mature oak trees that cast a long shadow have been ruled out. In theory, the farmer can appeal but in reality many farmers are terrified of the unknown implications of inviting inspections, not to mention the risk of delaying payments.”
“It is unacceptable that farmers are expected to be able to assess a subjective reduction in their area whereas the Department now has access to a much more precise Bing measuring system that has essentially moved the goalposts. Many farmers have relied on Teagasc to advise them on their applications. Other farmers have had inspections in the past. Despite all of this interaction with state agencies, many farmers are now caught offside and they cannot understand how they are now exposed.”
Mr Gilmartin said that this was going to be a key issue for the European elections and he has called on all MEPs to demand that Europe takes a less aggressive approach on this issue. “There is no doubt that many farmers are suffering extreme stress at the prospect of five years retrospective penalties and some will not be able to weather this storm. It is remarkable that state agencies seem unable to do anything about lavish pension arrangements for an elite few but the concept of legitimate expectation only applies at the top. Meanwhile, farmers on marginal land and marginal incomes are subject to rough justice.”