IFA president Joe Healy
Areas currently designated as Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) must be fully protected in the forthcoming review of areas, according to IFA president Joe Healy.
And the farm leader called for payments to be increased in this vital support scheme for low-income farmers on marginal land.
Mr Healy was speaking at the IFA Munster Regional meeting in Fermoy attended by TDs and MEPS.
“ANC payments represent a significant support for up to 95,000 farmers who farm in some of the most difficult conditions,” said Mr Healy.
He told the meeting that this must be recognised by European and national politicians.
“Every effort must be made to protect the areas already designated and to restore overall funding to its pre-2009 level, when Budget cutbacks were made,” he said.
Mr Healy pointed out that there was already a Programme for Government commitment to increase the ANC allocation by €25m in 2018 and said this must be improved upon to coincide with the review.
The IFA president said that the Government, in the negotiations with the EU Commission on the review, must put forward strong arguments which support this vital scheme and must use all political capital to ensure that all farmers continue to benefit.
Munster IFA chairman John Coughlan told the meeting that up to 30,000 farmers in the Munster region benefit from ANC payments worth around €63m.
He called on all MEPs and TDs to make the strongest case for all areas to be protected and payments improved.
IFA Rural Development chairman Joe Brady said that there are sufficient flexibilities in place in the Guidelines to Designate ANC Areas to protect areas already classified in the upcoming review.
At a recent meeting in Brussels, the EU Commission made clear that member states can make a case based on local conditions to ensure that areas retain their status and continue to qualify for payments, he said.
In addition, Ireland can make a case for areas that have difficulty in qualifying under the new criteria by classifying them based on agricultural output, stocking rate, permanent grassland, and farming systems, as well as areas with specific constraints.
Speaking on behalf of hill farmers, IFA Hill Committee chairman Pat Dunne said that ANC payments were a vital support along with other direct payments for sustaining hill farming.