Confusion is growing over how scrubland will be eligible for payments in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has committed to farmers that scrub will be eligible, but there is no clear definition yet of what will constitute scrub.
Scrubland can make up to 30% of an eligible land parcel from 2023 and the minister said it could “consist of features beneficial to the climate and environment such as scrub and habitat areas”.
While the news is positive, many farmers will see it as rule flip-flopping, with many required to remove scrub or risk losing payments in previous CAP cycles.
Land eligibility has been a thorny subject since area-based payments were established.
Farmers who lost entitlements due to claiming on ineligible land are unlikely to have those entitlements restored
In 2013, Ireland was fined €181m by the European Commission for claiming “ineligible land”.
This was later negotiated down to €69m, of which between €10m and €20m was clawed back directly from farmers through retrospective land eligibility fines.
Farmers who lost entitlements due to claiming on ineligible land are unlikely to have those entitlements restored as no reallocation of entitlements is planned in this CAP reform.
Young farmers who qualify as new entrants who have scrubland with no entitlements may be able to access the National Reserve.
Farmers will also want to know if scrub on their land will count towards the eco scheme that will make up 25% of the money in Pillar I payments.
A consultation on the next CAP is expected to open in the coming weeks
Other changes to what defines land as eligible for payment are also in the pipeline, as Minister McConalogue said that an element of the CAP agreement at the June Council of Ministers included a provision that agricultural activity might only have to take place once every two years to be eligible for payment.
A consultation on the next CAP is expected to open in the coming weeks, when stakeholders will be invited to give their views before the Department submits Ireland’s national plan for the next CAP to Brussels in January 2022.
The minister also said that convergence would be reconsidered next year.
There is some concern that the Department will be under pressure to make this deadline as a result of the delayed CAP negotiations over the summer period at a European level.