An independent member of Mayo County Council has this week hit out at what he called a failure by the Department of Agriculture to make provisions for hill and commonage farmers in the Budget and for its failure to honour a commitment to compensate farmers who have been affected by environmental designations.
Cllr Michael Holmes said this week, “The price of hill lambs is at an all-time low and farmers are finding it almost impossible to find a market for them. REPS is almost finished, and no alternative direct payment scheme has been put in place. At the moment, direct payments can make up in excess of 100 per cent of net income for sheep farmers. The absence of a proper upland scheme is putting the survival of hill farming in serious jeopardy.”
Confusion is reigning among hill farmers according to Holmes as to what will happen in the future. He said, “For the past 15 years, farmers have been encouraged to reduce their number of stock on hills because of the problem of overgrazing. Now, without any scheme in place, they are completely in the dark about future stock levels, making it almost impossible to plan ahead. To take this uncertainty out of the picture, the Department needs to come up with a proper, workable, framework plan which is centred around individual farmers and linked to a suitable upland scheme.”
He also believes that the Department is reneging on promises made to farmers who have had to adhere to tight restrictions because of environmental designations. “In February 1997, I was part of a group that sat down with the now President and the then minister for the arts, culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D Higgins, and we discussed how the EU Habitats Directive would be implemented. Before it was signed into law, we were given firm assurances that we would be compensated for any restrictions imposed because of designations such as SACs. Now it looks like they are going back on this promise as there is no compensation scheme in place for the very farmers who have had to shoulder the bulk of these restrictions.” He concluded by saying, “I am calling on Minister Covney to reverse this situation and to make provision for a proper, workable, upland scheme for hill farmers immediately. Waiting another year will be too late for many farmers.”