The Government and the IFA could be facing a major backlash from small farmers – especially in western seaboard counties – over their stance regarding the forthcoming reform of CAP.
Farmers at a meeting in Donegal last Thursday expressed support for the flat rate approach for Single Farm Payment (SFP) entitlements that is favoured by EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos.
The meeting also heard criticism of Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and the IFA for what many felt was their support for bigger farmers at the expense of smaller farmers.
Minister Coveney and the major farm organisations have all come out against a flat rate approach to calculating SFP entitlements, arguing that such a move would seriously hit the viability of many of the most productive farms.
Almost 200 people attended the meeting in the Highland's Hotel in Glenties, Co Donegal. It was the first in a series of meetings that have been organised by Fianna Fail to outline the latest CAP proposals and the impact that they could have on farmers.
Éamon Ó Cuív, Fianna Fail spokesperson on agriculture, told the meeting that a genuine discussion on the CAP reform package was essential.
While Fianna Fail does not favour a simple flat rate approach to the SFP – that would give an average payment of €270/ha – Mr Ó Cuív pointed out that the approach would deliver higher payments to at least 70,000 farmers.
The opposition of Minister Coveney and the farm organisations to any serious redistribution of SFP funds has angered many farmers on low payments.
Donegal vet, part-time farmer and IFA member Gerard Roarty, told the Glenties meeting that he felt that the IFA had "got it wrong" in its opposition to a flat rate.
He called for a show of hands on those in favour of a flat rate and also on capping the payment to any one farmer to €50,000 a year.
Some farmers had left the meeting at this stage, but 168 were in favour of the flat rate and cap – with none against.
Mr Ó Cuiv noted the wide disparity in average SFPs from one county to another. He told the meeting that it ranged from a low of €166.77/ha in Donegal to a high of €350.99/ha in Kilkenny.
He said that 2pc of farmers got 12pc of payments and only 7pc got more than €500/ha.
"Those at the top must take a cut," Mr Ó Cuív declared, adding that the redistribution of funds was also needed to assist young farmers.
John Barron, chairman of the ICSA, noted that only 6pc of farmers were under 35. He favoured a tiered system of payments.
IFA rural development secretary, Gerry Gunning, said that "no deal is better than a bad deal." He acknowledged that getting "a perfect solution" was going to be difficult. But he said that any changes would be gradual.
He contended that capping SFP's at €50,000 would not lead to a very significant redistribution of funds, estimating that it would amount to about €400 extra for the beneficiaries.
The meeting also heard that while a flat rate would benefit the majority of Donegal's 8,000 farmers, there would also be losers among the bigger farmers in the east of the county.
Senator Brian O'Domhnaill, Fianna Fáil's Seanad spokesperson on agriculture – who chaired the meeting – called on farmers to lobby government TDs.
Meanwhile, the CAP reform proposals – along with the recent debate about stocking rates in commonages – has sparked off renewed interest in the United Farmers' Association (UFA).
National president Bertie Wall told the Farming Independent that membership "has been flowing in" and new county executives are likely to be established in several counties, including Donegal where, he claimed, the UFA had almost 4,000 members back in the 1990s.