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Minister Smith announces €7million for Hill Sheep Farmers

Special payments amounting to approximately €7 million will be made to 14,000 hill sheep farmers in December of this year.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr. Brendan Smith TD, announced today that he has decided that unused funds from the Single Payment National Reserve would be paid to hill sheep farmers in 2009 in the form of an Uplands Sheep Payment. In reaching the decision, the Minister pointed out that he recognised the difficulties, and costs including compliance costs facing the sheep sector and was anxious to introduce a scheme immediately in order that Irish sheep farmers could benefit from these funds in 2009.

Minister Smith referred to the outcome of the negotiations on the CAP Health Check proposals and said that he was one of the first Ministers to press for the use of unspent funds from national Single Farm Payment ceilings to fund measures that targeted at specific sectors in need of assistance. The Minister added "I am pleased that I have now introduced a payment that will fully and efficiently utilise all of the available funds in 2009".   The Minister said that the outcome of the health check negotiations had been very positive for Ireland, and had once again shown the importance of EU support for Irish agriculture.

Outlining the details of the measure, the Minister said that his objective was to ensure that it was simple and low cost to administer and created no additional administrative burden for farmers. The main features of the new Uplands Sheep Payment are as follows:

(i)  Eligible applicants must have sheep recorded in the National Sheep Census for both the 2007 and 2008 calendar years.

(ii) Applicants must be eligible for the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme in 2009.

(iii) Applicants must farm and declare in 2009 mountain type grazing land.

(iv) The mountain type grazing land must have been declared on the 2008 and 2009 Single Payment/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme application forms.

(v) The aid will be payable on mountain type grazing land up to a maximum of 15 hectares.

(vi) The rate of aid per hectare will be calculated by reference to the available National Reserve funds and the total area eligible for payment when all of the 2009 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme applications are processed.

(vii) Eligible farmers will apply for the Uplands Sheep payment when they submit their 2009 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme application form.

The Minister said that, subject to commission approval, payments would commence on 1 December 2009, the first date that payments can commence under the EU Regulations. He said that based on the estimated National Reserve funds of approximately €7 million and the eligible area declared by farmers in 2008, approximately 14,000 hill sheep farmers will benefit from the 2009 payment. Based on the data available for 2008, it is estimated that the level of aid will be €35 per hectare and a maximum payment per farmer of €525.

The Minister emphasised that the measure is for 2009 alone. A decision on the use of unspent CAP funds and modulation monies from 2010 onwards, will be made when further information is available on the detailed EU rules that will apply to these measures. The Commission will shortly table its proposals for the detailed rules for the use of the unused funds and it expected that they will be finalised in May/June of this year.  The Minister said it was important that these funds were used efficiently for the development of Irish agriculture. He emphasised that all sectors, including in particular, both hill and lowland sheep production, will be considered in this regard.

23 March 2009

Date Released: 23 March 2009