Dáil Éireann - Volume 415 - 18 February, 1992

Written Answers. - EC Agricultural Aid.

[2172] 418. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he intends to implement the objective of the European Community in respect of turning 10 per cent of arable land in the European Community into nature reserves; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

419. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if, in view of the stated EC policy of making the environment and agriculture compatible, he will outline the details of an aid scheme in order to encourage farmers to cut their use of fertilisers which is proposed by the European Communities; whether he will be recommending the implementation of this particular aid scheme for Irish farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

420. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he agrees with the creation of the EC investment aid scheme that would protect or improve the environment both within agricultural holdings and in the agri-food stuffs sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

421. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he is considering introducing rules limiting or banning payment of aid for intensive farming practices; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

422. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he is in favour of creating an EC compensation scheme that would help to preserve farming in hilly or less favoured areas where the exodus from rural areas could have harmful effects on the environment; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): I proposed to take Questions Nos. 418, 419, 420, 421 and 422 together.

I am assuming in all cases that the Deputy is referring to the wide-ranging agri-environment measures at present [2173] under discussion as part of the Common Agricultural Policy reform proposals.

Under this package it is proposed that aid would be available to farmers who introduce extensive type farming practices such as: reductions in the use of fertilisers; reductions in stocking levels; environmentally sensitive farming practices such as organic farming, proper maintenance of stone walls, laying of hedges in the traditional manner etc; and set-aside of arable land for environmental purposes such as nature reserves. In this regard I am not aware of any Community objective to convert 10 per cent of arable land into nature reserves.

As the proposals stand at present, it is mandatory on the member states to introduce an agri-environment package based on the above type of measures but implementation by farmers will be entirely voluntary.

I fully support the idea of an EC aid scheme for farmers to compensate them for loss of income in connection with the preservation of the environment. However, it is too early yet to say what the final scope of the package is likely to be or what measures Ireland will implement. The current proposal provides for programmes tailored to national needs to be agreed with the EC Commission.

I am very conscious of the difficulties being experienced by farmers in the less favoured areas as outlined by the Deputy but we will not know until the negotiations are finalised what the Commission's intentions are as regards the areas to be covered in each member state. The Deputy will be aware, of course, that £82.5 million was spent on the headage scheme alone in these areas in 1991 and farmers in these areas also qualify for [2174] higher rates of grant than the rest of the country for all investment schemes.

423. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will be seeking new EC aid packages to help train farmers in the direction of higher food quality production and the application of production methods that are compatible with environmental needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): Training and advisory programmes for improvement in food quality and production methods compatible with environmental needs are central to Teagasc's work. Teagasc are already in receipt of substantial EC funds in respect of these activities.