The soon-to-open €55m Fodder Support Scheme which is set to pay eligible drystock farmers up to €1,000 to make hay and silage has been criticised by farmer organisations for excluding Category 1 Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) land from the support measure.
Category 1 ANC lands are those previously designated as "mountain" by the Department of Agriculture.
Up to 30,000 farmers could be left ineligible for the payment, according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA), with the group calling for the scheme to be reviewed to allow these ANC farmers to apply.
The hill farmer group’s president Vincent Roddy referred to the announcement that these farmers would be excluded as a “bolt from the blue” and that there had been “no indication” that drystock farmers on such ANC ground would be left out when Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue addressed the INHFA AGM two weeks ago.
“At this meeting, I welcomed the decision to support all drystock farmers, but also stressed the need to go further and support those farmers who are not in a position to make hay or silage and will need to buy fodder,” he said.
Drystock farmers trusted what they were told last May
Roddy claimed that many beef and sheep farmers in such hill areas had based fertiliser purchased on the assumption that all drystock farmers could apply.
He added: “Drystock farmers trusted what they were told last May and held up meadows and spent money in the expectation that support was promised” and that “to now deny them that support is unacceptable and has to be reviewed”.
The INHFA head went on to say that the payment of an ANC top-up for Category 1 farmers should be committed to ensure fodder supplies in these areas are secured amid high input costs.
“Our understanding that some of these farmers have Category 1 lands and when we assess the changing route of the Fodder Support Scheme there is (albeit accidental) now an option to support all farmers on Category 1 ANC lands with a top-up ANC payment.”
“It is vital that the minister now delivers on the commitment made and the proposals we have outlined, relating to top-up payments for the farmers with the highest natural constraint, is an option well worth considering,” Roddy concluded.
The IFA hit out at the Category 1 ineligibility, calling the move “totally unacceptable” and reiterated the need for hill farmer fodder supports.
“Beef and sheep farmers who carry stock have increased costs imposed on them due to the escalation of input costs such as fertiliser, feed and fuel,” said the association’s hill chair Cailín Conneely.
“To ensure hill farmers can afford to continue to feed their animals for the winter of 2022, all beef and sheep farmers must receive extra financial support in addition to existing payments,” he said.