Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
54. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans he has to direct payments in the future through the rural development pillar of the CAP and through national envelopes to farmers that farm in a sustainable manner, deliver biodiversity landscape and other environmental benefits and provide the basis for the sustainable development of rural communities. [29350/03]
Mr. Walsh: The current CAP rural development plan runs until 2006. The rural environment protection scheme is an integral part of that plan. I have presented proposals to the Commission to significantly revise and simplify this scheme. The proposed changes to the scheme will underpin and enhance its environmental impact and increase its attractiveness to potential participants. The changes will include a standardised plan and more use of the iMAP database so as to reduce planning costs to farmers. I have, in this context, also made provision for substantially increased spending on REPS in the Abridged Estimates for 2004.
I am also introducing changes to the farm waste management scheme that will enhance its environmental orientation and increase participation. Here again, I am awaiting Commission agreement to changes in the scheme and have provided for increased spending on this scheme in the 2004 Estimates.
As regards the post-2006 situation, the debate on future EU rural development policy is still at an early stage. It will, however, intensify in the coming months. For example, at a recent EU conference, attended by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the need to ensure that environmentally oriented measures are an integral part of the new policy was stressed. I am confident that this will be the case and that there will continue to be a strong emphasis on biodiversity and other environmental benefits in future rural development policy.
I should also point out, of course, that the new single farm payment system that I will be introducing in 2005 contains provisions that farmers comply with desirable environmental and other requirements. A main thrust of the mid-term review was the encouragement of sustainable farming practices. We shall also ensure that the €34 million available under modulation will be used to enhance sustainable quality production.
Arising from the changes that I am proposing to REPS and the farm waste management scheme and following on the introduction of the single farm payment system, Irish farming will have a strong environmentally friendly base on which to enhance our reputation as a high quality consumer oriented food producing country.
Mr. Sargent: I thank the Minister for his reply. Many organisations are now agreed that there are benefits in terms of focusing on the market and benefits in terms of decoupling and removing the incentive to bring semi-natural habitats such as wet meadows into intensive production.
Does the Minister recognise that there are certain types of farming practice that need to be actively encouraged in the interests of the environment? I have in mind mixed farming and cereal production which is vital for certain species such as the yellowhammer and others. Organisations such as BirdWatch Ireland have made the point that it is not just a matter of decoupling and hoping for the best but rather looking out for the best interests of farmers who want to help the environment.
Does the Minister recognise that the new agreement was somewhat of a disappointment to many with that concern? Much of the payment will come from the rural development pillar. It was envisaged that there would be a payment of 20% in total from CAP whereas only 5% was achieved. Does the Minister agree that there is a need to do more than just decouple and hope for the best in terms of REPS? Whether or not farmers are in the REP scheme, there is a need to encourage some incentivisation of farmers who recognise that certain types of farming are beneficial to different environmental objectives.
Mr. Walsh: I agree with the Deputy that decoupling will be a positive matter for Irish farming and for the Irish countryside. It would be nice to return to the old mixed farming system that I grew up with—
Mr. Walsh: —where the farmyard was a hive of activity. Not only had we yellowhammers but also baby wagtails, robins, thrushes, wrens and a whole range of wildlife. Regrettably that has disappeared to a large extent. Mixed farming has discontinued, by and large, to be replaced by concentrated, specialist farming which has to be the case in a competitive European Union market and against international competitors. I do not see why commercial, professional farming cannot be in harmony with wildlife.
Under the new REP scheme, there was a degree of hilarity at the idea of bird boxes. Many sensible commercial farmers have no difficulty with the use of bird boxes. It enhances the farmyard and the farmhouse very much. In association with REPS I would like to see wet areas, broadleaf developments and landscaping. There is no reason why such measures cannot exist alongside good commercial farming practice.
Mr. Sargent: I am not sure whether the Minister is preparing to accept the demise of a certain amount of biodiversity or whether he is saying that it is possible to retain biodiversity. He said he liked the idea of having yellowhammers in the past but I do not know if he means in the future.
Does the Minister accept that the rural development pillar of the CAP has a role in providing incentives which would ensure a certain amount of biodiversity in farming? I am not saying it is possible to do it like it was done in the past; I am simply saying that based on modern scientific knowledge and information on biodiversity it should be possible to integrate a level of incentive for biodiversity in farming. As the Minister correctly stated, there are many farmers interested in that matter. Can the Minister envisage the rural development pillar being used for that and not just relying on REPS, which has a limited appeal in the case of many farmers? Margins are too tight in the horticultural area.
Mr. Walsh: I reiterate that I see no difficulty with commercial farming in the future having and allowing for biodiversity. REPS is greatly enhanced in the future, both in the rates of REPS payments and in the overall allocation. There will be the rural development pillar and the modulated funds which we can earmark for sustainable quality production. Many people are interested in biodiversity and wildlife generally and there is a greater appreciation of the importance of agri-tourism in rural areas. Unfortunately with regard to the yellowhammer and the corncrake and other birds, I hope things have not gone too far in the wrong direction.
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