PLACES currently designated as Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) must be fully protected in the forthcoming review of them, according IFA president Joe Healy, who also said that payments must be increased in this vital support scheme for low-income farmers on marginal land.
Speaking at an IFA Munster regional meeting about ANC in Fermoy last Friday, attended by MEPs and TDs from the Munster region, Joe Healy said: ‘ANC payments represent a significant support for up to 95,000 farmers who farm in some of the most difficult conditions. 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. There is already a Programme for Government commitment to increase the ANC allocation by €25m in 2018 and this must be improved upon to coincide with the review.’
The IFA president urged 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.
The 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.
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 are a vital support, along with other direct payments, for sustaining hill farming. ‘The ANC support should be pitched at a level which reflects the conditions which farming is carried out in the most marginal and hilly areas. The addition of funding that must be provided by the Government can be a major help in this regard for the 30,000 farmers who have hill land.’
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.