£47m support for Irish hills

4 August 2000

£47m support for Irish hills

IRISH hill farmers are set to gain an extra Ir£60m (£47m) in support following approval of a new area aid scheme by the Dublin government.

The deal will take the existing budget from Ir£120m to over Ir£180m next year, including Ir£8m from a temporary safety net. This is designed to protect farmers with higher stocking rates who would have lost out under the transition from a headage to an area-based scheme.

Irish Farmers Association president Tom Parlon said: "Todays resolution of the problem is the culmination of a year long campaign. It is a positive response to an unfair situation."

His comments followed the winding up of a 10-day occupation of the EU Commissions Dublin offices by IFA members, designed to put maximum pressure on ministers while they negotiated changes.

The new scheme will pay Ir£70/ha on up to 45ha in the more severely handicapped areas (available to 73,000 farmers); Ir£60/ha on up to 45ha in the less severely handicapped areas (available to 21,000 farmers); and Ir£45/ha on up to 60ha in the mountain areas (available to 15,000 farmers).

Producers with land in each category will be paid on their handicapped areas first, up to the 45ha limit, but may then claim on an extra 15ha of mountain land. There will also be a degree of cross-compliance, under which farmers will have to observe certain minimum environmental standards and honour specified stocking rates.

Agriculture minister Joe Walsh said more than 80,000 farmers would benefit under this scheme. And while there would be losers, a safety net would pay 90% compensation in 2001, 80% in 2002 and 50% in 2003.

This will be worth Ir£8.1m in the first year, Ir£7.2m in the second year and Ir£4.5m in the third year, said IFA hill adviser Jerry Gunning. "We estimate about 28,000 farmers will still be worse off, but 17,000 of them will be losing less than Ir£300 each."

Some will also be qualifying for hill support for the first time, notably dairy farmer in the less severely handicapped areas.

The proposal still has to win Brussels approval and will be considered by the agricultural structures and rural development (STAR) committee in September as part of Irelands overall Ir£3.7bn rural development package. Few problems are expected.

&#8226 Brussels has already approved new area aid schemes for hill farmers in Finland and Sweden. The Finnish package will pay from k150/ha (£93/ha) in the south to k210/ha (£130/ha) in the north, reflecting the increasing severity of natural handicaps. Over half the cash (54%) will come from EU sources.

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