I raised the recent CAP deal secured in Brussels in the Seanad recently. Fairness and Green farming are at the heart of the deal.
I thank the Acting Cathaoirleach and welcome Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, to the House.
The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, as the Minister of State will be aware, was originally established to ensure food security and has been a great success in that regard. Indeed, it has provided an income floor to farmers across the country through its supports and many farms would not survive without farm payments .
Ireland has unique farm systems. It has farms that are small, mixed, large and intensive, arable, grassland, hill and commonage, and with designated and Natura 2000 lands. The challenges presented by a new CAP to satisfy all of these various farm types was and is immense. At the heart of demands for reform were fairness, quality and viability. Farm organisations such as the Irish Farmers Association faced a difficult balancing act as the issue of convergence raised concerns about farm viability. The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association were supportive of full convergence. All of this in the context of convergence means a redistribution of moneys within the farming sector. For those farmers who will win, there will, of course, also be farmers who will lose.
A deal had been reached at the Council of Ministers that will go before the European Parliament for ratification. I ask today that the details of what has been agreed be set out on the floor of the Seanad. The negotiations up to this have recognised the increasing and correct demands by society for a greener CAP, a more climate-friendly farming model, that the value of carbon-rich soils such as such peatlands be recognised, for eco-schemes and green interventions. It is important that while peatlands have been rightly recognised as carbon stores, they continue to be seen as a crucial part of eligible farmland. There were concerns in the run-up to these negotiations that peatlands would be discontinued or be ineligible as farm areas. That could not happen and I acknowledge the work of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association for their work on highlighting that and the work of the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, for his interventions on that.
I also welcome the income of €60,000 that has been agreed as part of these negotiations. This is important in recognising that CAP is not just about supporting larger farmers and that putting a cap in place will set a tone and a bar as to payments. It will also recognise that farms are of various land types, quality and sizes across the country and the new CAP has recognised, to a degree, the importance of redistribution, convergence and providing a basic payment for all farmers irrespective of the challenges they may face. It also recognises the unique role that our commonage, hill, disadvantaged, Natura 2000 and protected lands play in society. If one looks at the range of areas, from blanket bogs to the unique landscape of the Burren, these are all recognised as part of a new CAP. These supports are important to protect farm viability in these areas and to keep farmers on the land.
Perhaps that is not recognised. Without farmers, the Burren would not be the Burren. Without farmers, our blanket bogs in Connemara or elsewhere would not be as they are. I look forward to the Minister of State’s reply.
Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Malcolm Noonan)
Gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Seanadóir. I thank Senator Kyne for raising this important issue. I am pleased to announce that after three years of negotiation, a final political agreement on the main elements of the next Common Agricultural Policy was agreed by the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg yesterday. This has been a long and challenging negotiation. The overall agreement will provide member states with flexibility to take account of national circumstances as they implement the new Common Agricultural Policy.
It has been clear that the next Common Agricultural Policy would aim to support farmers undertaking greater environmental actions. Some 25% of the direct payment envelope will now be dedicated to eco-schemes. These schemes will support farmers to undertake additional environmental actions. Work is under way on the preparation of these proposals and for Ireland, a key objective will be to create eco-schemes that will engage as many farmers as possible to effectively deliver environmental change. There will be new conditionality requirements including a good agricultural and environmental condition, GAEC, for the protection of wetlands and peatlands, as the Senator referred to. Ireland has been clear throughout the negotiations that the standards to be set for GAEC 2 cannot prohibit agricultural activity on these lands and I am pleased to state we have secured this in the final text. Member states will be able to define their national standards for each GAEC, tailoring them to specific local needs and characteristics. Ireland’s Pillar 2 measures already include a high level of support for environmental actions and this is expected to continue in the next CAP. Farmers have clearly demonstrated their desire to undertake such actions and they will be offered appropriately designed schemes.
The Commission’s original proposal included a number of redistribution elements and the European Parliament equally has strongly supported compulsory redistribution. This is a complex issue and the farming bodies have different views on it. Under the next CAP, a set redistribution of 10% has been proposed. The proposal agreed will also allow member states to consider if there are other ways of achieving the redistribution needs identified nationally and to demonstrate this in the national CAP strategic plan. This type of flexibility is important. We need to have time to consider this complex issue nationally.
The proposals will also provide member states with broad flexibility to implement capping of payments. Ireland has sought greater flexibility in this regard throughout the negotiations. The proposals provide for 100% capping for any payments above €100,000 and for the ability to further reduce any payments above €60,000.
The process of internal convergence which exists in the current CAP will continue bringing every farmer up to a level of 85% of the national average entitlement value. Young farmers will continue to be supported under the next CAP. An amount equal to 3% of the direct payment envelope will be allocated to support them. Ireland already provides considerable national support for young farmers through the taxation system which provides strong support for transfers and farm partnerships.
Under the new CAP, farmers and other beneficiaries receiving direct payments who do not implement proper employment conditions as set out in the relevant EU legislation may be subject to an administrative penalty. This is the first time that EU agricultural legislation will include a social dimension. In reality, very few Irish farmers employ external labour and there will be a two-year lead-in period before commencement to allow for implementation of the new proposals.
The new CAP will also change to a more performance-based model. There will be a greater emphasis on the results and outcomes from the expenditure and this will bring greater clarity with regard to the considerable achievements of the CAP policy. For some time, especially as we move forward with the preparation of the national CAP strategic plan, we have been engaged in a process of intensive national consultation. This will continue and intensify as we develop our plan. It is vital to have this national engagement. I believe that farmers are ready and willing to engage. It will be our job to explain all of the new possibilities for farmers and to encourage them to participate in the new schemes in the next CAP. I believe that all parts of the farming community will be ready to participate in this debate in an open and transparent way. The market and consumers want farming and food production to meet higher environmental and climate expectations and the next CAP will be ready to help farmers with this challenge.
I thank the Minister of State for the comprehensive reply. It is a significant change from what farmers have been used to over the last years. I have concerns about the design of the eco-schemes. It is important that no farmers are left outside that. There were concerns about the recent results-based environment agri pilot programme, REAP, which excluded commonage and Natura land. It is important that any eco-scheme does not discriminate against those. They have every right and provide much more biodiversity that should be rewarded as part of an eco-scheme. I welcome and acknowledge the work on peatlands because there was significant concern that peatlands which have been actively farmed would be excluded from being eligible for payment. Due to the work of Government, that has been changed. I acknowledge the work of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, INHFA, on that issue. I thank the Minister of State for his reply.
I confirm to Senator Kyne that the discussions that have been ongoing between our agri-ecology unit in the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been positive in designing a CAP strategic plan that is fit for purpose for nature and for people, because this is ultimately about the needs of people and of farming communities. I have had positive engagement with the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, most recently during a visit to Connemara. There is acceptance and willingness to participate in schemes that will benefit biodiversity in particular. We have set highly ambitious targets for nature in the EU biodiversity strategy. Farming communities are willing to play their part in that.
The Senator referred to the Burren. The work being done by Brendan Dunford and the BurrenLIFE programme have been instrumental in informing results-based payment schemes that will be part of the design of the next CAP strategic plan. I am confident that we will achieve a high level of protection of nature and good results-based schemes for farmers in the west of Ireland and right across the country.