Coveney hopes to make CAP coupling decision by October
Agriculture Minister talks CAP reform, trade and targets ahead of Ploughing
As Minister Simon Coveney gears up for a marathon 12-hour visit to the Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska on Tuesday, the Farming Independent gets his views on the big issues that will be on punters' minds during the festival.
The CAP Budget
"There are still some outstanding issues around the CAP budget, because even though the European Parliament have signed up to it in principle, they still want to make a point of giving it their approval. So there is a political agreement on CAP (versus a legally binding one), and the remaining issues are ones that shouldn't materially affect the amount that any individual Irish farmer gets. The main sticking points are still what percentage we should allow to be transferable between Pillar I and Pillar II and degressivity. The latter of these doesn't really matter a damn to Irish farmers, but these are issues that are still in square brackets in the text and have yet to be signed off on.
"The Parliament aren't asking for many changes and we're (council of farm ministers) not willing to offer much. I think we'll get this through within a week."
Domestic CAP options
"This is a genuine effort to get the opinions of people on the ground, so we're not just going through the motions on this. All the farm organisations have put in significant submissions, but I've a pretty clear picture of what I want to do.
"We fought for CAP changes for good reason and you're going to see those reasons come through in the end.
"I hope to achieve a broad consensus that achieves both the potential of the Food Harvest 2020 plan, but also protects vulnerable farm families that are in a position to benefit from the opportunities that the Food Harvest plan offers, be it for reasons of soil types, region or whatever. This latter aim is important to keep the fabric of rural Ireland intact.
"Personally, I feel that every farm has the capacity to improve, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be spending public money protecting vulnerable people.
"I also want farmers to become better business people too and that's the reason behind the spending on technology adoption programmes, quality assurance schemes and so on.
"That's why I fought so hard to have a managed redistribution with a minimum payment in the CAP reforms.
"But I am doing everything I can to make sure that the money goes into the hands of active farmers, without totally killing the rental and leasing market.
"But it's very difficult, because how do you legally define what an active farmer is? Take a farmer that makes extensive use of a contractor, for example.
"I expect to be in a position to make a decision on Pillar I by the end of October, mid-November latest. I'll know where I stand on Pillar II by end of November."
The civil service
"I'll be the first to admit that I was somewhat sceptical of the civil service's capacity to turn Ireland around when I started in this job (as Minister for Agriculture). But I've since realised that the Department officials who worked on the CAP reform are some of the best people that I've ever worked with. They're hugely motivated, and it sounds corny, but these guys felt a real patriotic duty to deliver.
"These people really weren't being paid for the hours and they were really stretched and under a lot of pressure, partly from me.
"But I think the whole experience (during the CAP negotiations) will really stand to the Department."
"I'm expected to make cuts to my current expenditure of €28m and target savings of €25m in the Department's capital expenditure.
Last year, we managed to renegotiate those figures down with Finance and that's my job over the coming weeks.
"I am open to the idea of moving forestry back into the rural development pillar of CAP funding. But it was taken out of there for a reason (by a previous government) because there wasn't enough money in that pot to do everything that they wanted to do for rural development."
Galway's deep sea fish farm
"Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) are the applicant for the licence for this development (of a 1,100ac salmon farm). This is the first time that we've looked at deep sea salmon fishing in Ireland. It's already been through a public consultation process.
"I'll get advice from the Marine Institute, and I expect that file on my desk over the next couple of months. I'm not going to grant permission for a project that is not sustainable. So this may or may not actually get across the line."
"We've exceeded almost every target that we set out in 2010. But even though we are three times ahead of our target of increasing the value of primary output from the sector for example, the targets are still relevant. That's the reason that we doubled the beef targets to 40pc and dairying has yet to deliver its 50pc increase.
"The food industry is doing really well here at the moment and food exports could reach €10bn this year. You only have to look at the sales performance of the whiskey, dairy and beef sectors. It's really exciting, and that's why young people are so keen to get into colleges to study this – they feel the excitement too. But it does mean that you need to be pretty smart now to get the points to study in these courses."
"Farmers had a reasonably good summer and it's a great opportunity to meet and greet people. I never dread meeting farmers. Yes, they can be tough but when you get them on a one-to-one basis, they are reasonable people.
"Some want nothing to do with me I'm sure, but it's a big celebration and I'm really looking forward to it."