Farm Ireland

Friday 21 October 2016

"Agriculture and food is the most important sector in our economy" - Coveney

We talked to Minister Simon Coveney about EU aid and the forthcoming budget

Published 23/09/2015 | 02:30

Minister Simon Coveney
Minister Simon Coveney
Minister Coveney pictured with Laois dairy farmer Bobby Hovenden last year in the run-up to the abolition of EU milk quotas

The woes over market prices has seen milk and grain spilled on the streets of European cities following a summer of discontent and farmers' protests.

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But as he prepares to press the flesh at this week's Ploughing Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is hoping that the tide is turning back in favour of farmers.

How Ireland's €13.7m 'envelope' of direct aid from the EU's €500m support package for the struggling dairy and pigmeat industry will be distributed is still to be decided.

"We're looking to allocate that money in terms of the broader interests of dairy farmers in the market place - around income support, around the capital assistance that they need," he says, with key stakeholders in the dairy forum due to meet next week.

Mr Coveney says the measures are designed to allow the dairy market time to recover, which he feels it undoubtedly will.

"[The EU is] pumping quite strong resources into market intervention which will hopefully take product off the market at no cost to our companies," he said.

"This is about making sure that we have market recovery for spring milk and making sure that liquid milk producers get a fair price through the winter, and it is about income support for dairy and pigmeat farmers because they have been through a difficult few months."

After strong criticisms of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme there are over 29,000 farmers in the scheme, while the second tranche of the agri-environment scheme GLAS is getting underway shortly.

Mr Coveney said they had targeted the beef sector after the fall-off in prices last year, with all sides now engaged in the Beef Forum.

After another trade mission to the US, Mr Coveney said a US audit team landed in Ireland last week to iron out any outstanding issues over getting the potentially more lucrative manufacturing meat into the US market.

"I'd be hopeful that within the next month or so we should make good progress on this," he said.

Mr Coveney said the early delivery of 70pc of individual direct payments would begin in the middle of next month as part of the package.

"There'll be hundreds of millions of euros given out next month that wouldn't have been given out because of the package secured from the Commission," he said.

"The 70pc advanced payment hasn't happened before it is normally 50pc advance payment.

"We'll also be giving 85pc advanced payments on the area-based payments," he said.

"A lot of countries don't have the capacity to do this. We do," he said, adding the new greening measures do complicate it. "Our guys will be working overtime now to get the monies out as quickly as they can."

Rural crime

An issue that the minister will encounter at this year's Ploughing is concerns over rural crime and cattle rustling.

"It is unacceptable that there were 146 cattle stolen last year.

"Our systems should make it virtually impossible to sell animals that are stolen.

"We are obviously working with the gardai with the benefit of those systems to try and track animals to make sure they are not slaughtered illegally.

"Much of this seems to centre around border counties which is unfortunate as you've two jurisdictions involved," he says, adding they are working with the PSNI to stamp out livestock theft and illegal slaughering.

With the countdown to the Budget underway, it's understood a number of reliefs for farmers such as the 25pc general stock relief, 100pc stock relief for young trained farmers and 50pc stock relief for registered farm partnerships will be retained.

"Every Budget we've had, we've had a lot in it for farming and agriculture and the food industry," he said. "Farmers have gotten used to being prioritised and my job and the Government's job is to make sure they are not disappointed. Agriculture and food is the most important sector in the Irish economy."

Minister rules out reducing farming output to reduce carbon emissions

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney ruled out a carbon levy on farming as a potential measure to offset our looming bill.

"We are probably doing more than any other country in the world around agriculture, sustainability and climate change in terms of what we're trying to do," he said. "We know we are producing milk at the lowest emissions intensity in the world, ourselves and New Zealand and Austria, and we want to get even better. From a beef point of view we are in the top third in terms of emissions efficiency and we're getting better."

He hit out at "sweeping statements" made on agriculture's responsibilities towards tackling climate change adding the sector was doing a "huge amount" to address it.

""What I won't allow in Ireland is that we would reduce output to reduce emissions because I think that doesn't allow Ireland to fulfil its full potential as a food producer," he said. "The idea Ireland would produce less milk so that some other country would produce more milk to compensate at a higher emissions intensity than Ireland produces milk - in terms of actual global milk output ­­‑ that doesn't make sense from a climate change point of view."

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