Use of Commonage Lands: Discussion

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

I would like to make a few points about grazing. The officials have said that grazing is the answer. I have come across an obstacle that is discouraging people from taking land in higher grazing areas. I refer to upland areas that are tied by appurtenant areas to lowland areas. I have come across the case of a chap who was taking one of these areas for many years. It was news to me that one cannot take one without taking the other, even though I have dealt with many of these issues. That sends out the unfortunate signal that one should stay well away from taking upland grazing because one could put one’s entire single farm payment in jeopardy. There is such demand for grazing in my part of the country that people are prepared to travel. These appurtenant areas are among the flexibility issues that need to be sorted out. No farmer sets out to have his or her entire single farm payment taken away. Perhaps some clarification is needed with regard to all the lands that have appurtenant areas. That would allow for more flexibility. There is also a need for flexibility in relation to people with cattle who are prepared to travel. Farming is changing. Higher areas can be grazed very quickly by many cattle. One could send them in to do it. The cattle would not necessarily have to be owned by the people who are living there. I think it should be looked at in that way.

I would also like to refer to land parcel information systems. There are no boundaries in commonage areas. There are issues with the use of land parcel information systems as part of normal farming routines. Difficulties can arise, especially if a great deal of the land in question is rented, when there is an apparent need for a boundary. I have often swapped land with people. When we were growing beet a few years ago, I swapped land with people – they took some of my land for beet and I took some of their land. The boundary was often a tramline. There was never any intention to defraud any scheme, high up or low down. It was always done properly. If some type of accommodation is to be reached with regard to upland areas, the same accommodation should be reached with regard to lowland areas. It is affecting people’s living.

I agree with the witness who said it is not all about sheep numbers. One of the biggest issues in tillage farming is compaction. Soil science is very important in this context. Believe it or not, compaction can become a large issue when large levels of stock like sheep are on ground that is not free-draining. It needs to be taken into account on such lands.

I wonder whether map-farming is common in commonages. If so, what are those maps making this year? Perhaps the officials do not have an answer in this respect. I know the Department is doing its best to stamp out this practice, which is certainly very common. It is a scourge. People who are dormant are still claiming the single farm payment.

I could name a dozen of them straightaway. That is killing farming and I wonder if it is happening on the uplands.

With rights comes responsibility. People who own land and leave it dormant have a responsibility. This message needs to be conveyed and perhaps legislated for. Direction is needed and the issue needs to be simplified. We cannot have stalemate because some person does not want to engage; that just will not work.

We have to be careful when people ask for compensation. We have had a compensation culture for far too long. We are heading into a time when a lot more food will be required. Having the mindset of farmers focused on compensation rather than production is something about which we have to be very careful. I am talking about sustainable production, where every acre is used to its potential. A few years ago people described agriculture – God help us – as a sunset industry. We need to move to a situation where we can get people to produce to the maximum extent, regardless of the quality of their land. Whatever moneys are to be paid, I would not want it to be seen as compensation but for production.

It has been suggested the country could be split into different areas. Would it be possible to split commonages separately and couple them because we are allowed a certain percentage of coupling? It might be possible to give some grant for fencing to allow us to micro-manage areas that are being damaged without putting an onerous cost on those involved.