13th April 2015
ICSA has said that the whole land eligibility question is becoming a huge source of anger and frustration among farmers who are being charged with the impossible task of serving two masters – environment and agriculture – and, at the same time have no certainty as to how much of their farm is eligible.
ICSA is addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture on this Tuesday (April 14) on the land eligibility question. According to ICSA president Patrick Kent, the land eligibility question is of huge concern, particularly on marginal and disadvantaged land. “Farmers in disadvantaged areas are bearing the brunt of the assault on the land eligibility question. It is particularly outrageous that farmers who have continued to be as productive on challenging land as they were back in the reference years are now being hit with severe penalties. The only way to avoid penalties is to aggressively reduce the declared eligible area but that’s like asking an employee to volunteer to do without pay for several weeks or months.”
“One arm of the EU is insisting that CAP policy favours biodiversity and is being shaped to contribute to climate change targets. Another arm insists that trees, bushes, scrub and less productive herbaceous material is unlikely to be eligible for CAP support under Pillar 1. Many farmers were sent in one direction under environmental schemes such as REPS by being contracted to keep habitats in as biodiverse a state as possible; now these habitats are routinely the subject of penalties under LPIS reviews.”
He added that there is a complete contradiction where, under the new CAP greening requirement, cereal farmers are being forced to devote at least 5% of their land to ecological focus area yet cattle and sheep farmers are being penalised severely for having more than 3% ecological focus areas.
ICSA held a large public meeting in Athlone on Friday night on the land eligibility question where guest speakers included MEPs Marian Harkin, Luke Ming Flanagan and Mairéad McGuinness. ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch said that the LPIS review process was completely unfair. “When over 10,000 people appeal the outcome of any regulatory or legislative process, it is clear that something is badly wrong,” he asserted. He added that the appeals process had taken far too long. “Justice delayed is justice denied. Many of the farmers who appealed penalties applied to their 2013 Single Payment have only seen the ground inspections carried out in the first three months of 2015 and even yet, there are outstanding cases. In addition, farmers who have been fully or partially successful in appealing overclaims are still waiting to receive the money wrongly withheld.”
There were repeated complaints at the meeting that farmers cannot be expected to apply for a scheme where there is such uncertainty about land eligibility and at the same time risk huge penalties.
ICSA West Cork chairman Dermot Kelleher outlined the frustrations of farmers in the south-west where the LPIS review has been particularly savage. He said that there was a move to raise funds for a possible legal challenge against what farmers saw as a totally unfair and unjust process. He said that a group, describing itself as the Disadvantaged Farmers’ group, were actively seeking financial support for a legal challenge to unfair penalties. He outlined particularly unfair cases where there seemed to be several different and contradictory views from officials sources at Department and EU level regarding the percentage eligibility of mountain type land held by farmers in West Cork and Kerry.