Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, announced on Wednesday that payments worth €182m under the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme had started and will issue this week to almost 85,000 farmers.

This is the first tranche of advance payments under the ANC with the 15% balancing payments due to take place in early December.

The payment compares to €185m paid to 86,000 farmers in September 2020. Total payments in 2020 under the ANC were recorded at €246.7m paid to 98,751 farmers.

This shows that there is likely to be between 13,500 and 14,000 applicants who have not receive a payment in the first tranche.

The Department explains that for many applicants this is due to the scheme stocking rate requirements not yet being satisfied.

Many farmers also contacted the Irish Farmers Journal this week citing that monies received under the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure were being recouped from ANC payments where they have not satisfied scheme requirements. It is not clear as yet if this is responsible for the lower payments in 2021.

Stocking rate requirements

Under the scheme applicants must satisfy two stocking rate requirements. Firstly, applicants must satisfy a minimum stocking rate averaging equal to or greater than 0.15 livestock units per eligible forage hectare across the 12-month calendar year.

The second aspect is applicants must also maintain a stocking rate equalling or greater than 0.15LU/ha across a consecutive seven month period within the calendar year.

If stock are being maintained for the minimum period of seven months then the stocking rate will need to equal or exceed an average of 0.26LU/ha during this period to achieve an average of 0.15LU/ha across the full year.

The exception to this rule is where a lower stocking rate is commanded under an agri-environmental scheme or commonage framework plan. Farmers have until 31 December 2021 to meet the stocking rate requirements and cases will only be cleared for payment once this has been satisfied.

The Department is encouraging farmers who feel they have already satisfied the stocking rate requirement to submit any outstanding stocking evidence in support of their application to the Department’s Portlaoise office as soon as possible to facilitate the early release of payments.

They state that regular pay runs will continue in the coming weeks to ensure cleared cases are processed for payment as quickly as possible.

Animal values

Table 1 details the livestock unit values for eligible animals and the proof required to demonstrate this.

Since 2020 donkeys cannot satisfy 100% of stocking rate requirements and will be capped at fulfilling a maximum of 50% of the stocking rate requirement.

All farms where donkeys or horses are retained must be registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in accordance with S.I. No. 8 of 2012, Diseases of Animals Act 1966 (Registration of Horse Premises) Order 2012.

These farmers will also have received notification in recent weeks informing them that a new annual equine census is being introduced starting in 2021. It is likely that this will also be used in the future to record stocking rates.

Horses are deemed to be eligible to satisfy ANC requirements if they are held on an equine breeding enterprise. This is defined in the terms and conditions as a holding which has bred a foal in either 2019 or 2020 from a mare registered on the holding in 2020. The mare must be registered in a stud book approved by the Department with pedigree recorded (sire and dam).

Ministerial comment

Minister McConalogue said: “I am delighted to announce that payments totalling €182m have been issued to almost 85,000 farmers in the first tranche of advance payments under the ANC scheme.

“This is in line with previous years and I am conscious of the importance of the timely delivery of payments under the ANC scheme. The ANC scheme is a crucial one for so many farm families and I was keen to issue payments as soon as possible.

“These payments represent a timely and significant financial boost for farmers and for the wider rural economy.

“The issuing of these payments in mid-September underscores my determination to maximise payments to farmers at the earliest possible time. Payments will be visible in farmers’ bank accounts in the coming days and the Department will continue to process, as a matter of urgency, all remaining cases for payment as they meet scheme criteria,” he said.

The minister also confirmed that arrangements are being made by the Department to facilitate payment of the advance of 70% under the Basic Payment Scheme, with effect from 18 October 2021.