The president of the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers’ Association, Colm O’Donnell, has outlined concerns that any future Programme for Government could side-line many farmers – especially those currently delivering an environmental benefit through a low input farming system.
In welcoming proposals to assess the current state of biodiversity on all farms and the possibility of a new REPS scheme, he stated there is a need to ensure that good farming practice currently delivering in terms of water quality, biodiversity and other public goods is rewarded.
When addressing this, the INHFA leader pointed to past schemes that incentivised farmers to deliver on environmental measures through actions such as wild bird cover, low emission slurry spreading and hedgerow planting while ignoring an abundance of biodiversity and diverse habitats on other farms.
In relation to the current delivery of increased biodiversity and improved eco-system services O’Donnell expressed disappointment that “based on the previews we have seen of the programme, there is no means of addressing the concerns of farmers with designated Natura 2000 sites”.
He said that with these sites delivering in terms of public goods between €2 to €3 billion/year based on an EU assessment, there is “a need to ensure that the farmers delivering this get a fair reward in recognition of the burden and compliance costs associated with these lands”.
While expressing broad support for commitments given to maintain existing sheep schemes and proposals around the development of a woollen industry, O’Donnell stated how the lack of detail – especially in relation to proposed spending – is a concern here and elsewhere in the document.
Live exports and suckler supports
On the issue of live exports, he welcomed the continued support for this and also the commitment to beef farmers to increase transparency in the supply chain.
He questioned the thinking that “seems to support the retention of the BDGP” stating that “much-needed support for our suckler farmers can have better outcomes through a welfare-based scheme that front-loads payments on the first 10 cows”.
‘Payment withdrawn ten years later’
With regard to the proposals to incentivise those with farmed peatlands to intentionally wet these lands in order to store carbon, O’Donnell cautioned that this could go the way of land designations from twenty years ago.
“Back then, a payment was made through REPS to help farmers with the burden of this designation only for that payment to be withdrawn some ten years later, leaving farmers with the continued burden without appropriate payment.” he concluded.