THE Department of Agriculture has proposed that scrub and other non-agricultural features be included in the definition of an eligible hectare in the next Common Agricultural Policy 2023.
Habitats, hedgerows, trees, indigenous plants and other landscape features have been labelled ‘scrub’ in recent years, and were not eligible for payment under the Single Payment Scheme and subsequent Basic Payment Scheme.
The move has been welcomed by the Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge group which was set up in 2014 to raise awareness and to oppose what it felt were unfair deductions and penalties over scrub. After several unfruitful attempts to engage with the Department, members of the group took these issues to the High Court. The proceedings are still ongoing.
The group said: ‘Over the past eight to nine years, especially during the reference years for previous Cap reforms, upwards of 30,000 Irish farming families suffered unfair and arbitrary deductions on land parcels with such vital features, which the Department of Agriculture classified as ineligible ‘scrub.’ This resulted in the exclusion of land which historically had been eligible for payment, and has a negative impact on farm income, sustainability, biodiversity, ecosystems, and the environment.
‘The Department has, in our opinion, been wrong all these years to take land with these valuable features off farmers. The recent publication of the Department’s proposal to make non-agricultural features eligible again shows a change of heart which is very welcome and long overdue.