FARMERS have received a major stimulus with the news that the Government is to commit €1.9bn in exchequer funding to farm schemes over the next seven years.
Announcing the measures, the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, said that it "represented a very significant, strategic financial investment in the agri-food sector."
The money will be added to the €2.2bn already committed by the EU to bring the total rural development funding for the sector to just over €4bn.
Among the new schemes unveiled by the minister was a new €250m environmental scheme, called the Green Low Carbon Agri-environmental Scheme (GLAS).
"I hope that at its peak we will see 50,000 farmers availing of up to €5,000 each annually from this scheme," said Minister Coveney at Government Buildings yesterday evening. It is designed to replace the previous REPS and AEOS environmental schemes. Mr Coveney also ruled out the possibility of any new coupled payment for low-profitability sectors such as beef and sheep.
"I don't believe in it, even though other countries have gone down this route. In my view, it is simply transferring money to farmers without getting anything in return," he said.
Instead, €52m has been allocated to a beef scheme aimed at getting farmers to improve the genetics of their herds. For sheep farmers, the minister said that he would roll out the €14m sheep grassland scheme payment into their Single Farm Payment, effectively giving them a top-up on their basic EU farm subsidy.
Tillage farmers will also be able to apply for a payment on protein crops such as beans to help reduce the country's dependence on protein feed imports. Farm organisations were broadly happy with the announcement. There had been concerns in the run-up to Christmas that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would not sanction exchequer support at levels as high as in previous years.
"We could have taken the accountancy approach and simply committed the minimum level of money required [to draw down all the EU funding available] and I want to thank minister Brendan Howlin for the understanding he has shown of rural Ireland," said Mr Coveney. He insisted that the announcement represented a greater commitment when compared with the level of funding over the last seven years. He added that he believed that the agri sector had the capacity to create "tens of thousands of jobs".
"This is an unprecedentedly exciting period, with 25,000 of the 58,000 jobs created in the last 12 months coming from the farming, fishery and forestry sector. But it is vital that we do everything we can to encourage young people to take up a career in farming if the innovation and new ideas required to generate the smart, green growth envisaged under the Food Harvest 2020 are to be realised," he added.