More low-cost loans on way for Brexit-bruised farming sector
Farmers exposed to the impact of Brexit have been prioritised.
Funding for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will be increased by €64m to a total investment of over €1.5bn in 2018 to help strengthen the industry. It amounts to over €50m in Brexit support measures.
Overall, €300m will be put into a competitively priced loan fund for SMEs including food businesses, as they are particularly exposed to the UK market, to aid with short-term working capital. Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said he hoped that 40pc of that would be aimed at the agri-food sector.
In addition, a further €25m will be provided by the Department of Agriculture for the development of a Brexit-response loan scheme, with the aid of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and others, aimed at farmers, fishermen and some in the food industry.
Mr Creed said the first low-cost loan programme for the sector will be fully examined before the new scheme under Budget 2018 is rolled out.
Mr Creed said he was "anxious" to have it in place as soon as possible, as he highlighted the key measures to help ease the pain of Brexit in this year's financial package.
Nick Ashmore from the SBCI said one of the "key lessons" was that the money was snapped up so swiftly first-time round and they also needed time to leverage this fund, as last year they were able to raise an additional €125m to provide a total fund of €150m.
Mr Creed said a further €4.5m would be provided to Bord Bia for marketing and promotion in 2018 - following on from the extra €10m since the UK's Brexit vote.
Another €25m will bring to €227m the funding for the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme for farmers in marginal areas, after it suffered cuts in previous budgets.
A new National Food Innovation Hub will also be set up to aid research and innovation in the food sector.
In addition, €106m will be targeted at the forestry sector with the aim of planting 6,600 new hectares of forests next year to help meet climate change mitigation targets.
Irish Farmers' Association president Joe Healy said the ANC monies and a low-interest loan package for farmers provide some recognition of the market and income difficulties facing farming. But he said the failure of the Government to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to match the PAYE credit impacts disproportionately on lower-income farmers.
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association president John Comer said it was "inexplicable" that it did not contain a concrete measure to address income volatility. However, he welcomed the low cost loan package.
Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association president Patrick Kent said an increase of just €200 on the Earned Income Credit for self-employed still leaves a "lot of ground to make up".