Every effort must be made to ensure that areas of Louth and Meath and counties Cavan and Monaghan currently classified under areas of natural constraints remain in receipt of payments following the review currently underway, Mairead McGuinness, MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament has said.
Speaking at an IFA meeting in Cootehill on Thursday, McGuinness said that Ireland, along with all EU member states, is obliged to look at all land and classify it according to new biophysical criteria, including soil type, climate and specific handicaps like slopes etc.
The requirement comes following a highly critical 2003 report from the EU Court of Auditors about the classifications system and the areas identified.
The review underway must be completed by 2018, with publication of the maps identifying the areas under natural constraint (ANC) due this year.
The mapping is not complete at this stage and work is ongoing.
“It is vital that no farmer loses out in the review,” Ms McGuinness said. “But it is at this stage very uncertain if all the areas currently classified will remain in the classification and if new areas will be included.
“All of counties Cavan and Monaghan are classified as severely handicapped and we will be working to ensure that this remains the case after the review takes place.
“In Louth some 25pc of land is classified and in Meath it is 15pc with a mix of specific handicaps.
“Farmers know very well the specific reasons why their land is classified and there is naturally some concern if their land is declassified and there is a loss of support payments as a result,” she said.
Overall the scheme is worth €205million to 95,000 farmers, with 75pc of Ireland designated.
In the Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath region the payments are worth €21m to 11,000 farmers.
“I am working with my colleagues in Government to make the case of how important these payments are, not just to farmers but to the rural economy generally.
“I welcome the additional €25m in funding in the Programme for Government available to the scheme in 2018,” she added.
“The first step is to get the classifications done and then to look at how payments can be differentiated between areas of severe handicap and those with fewer difficulties.”