Monday 18 December 2017

Agriculture sector suffers cuts, but it could have been worse

Darragh McCullough and Declan O'Brien

CUTS to the farming budget will cost farmers a predicted €400 on average.



However, the reaction overall from the farming community to yesterday's announcements was tempered by the knowledge that the Budget could have been much worse.

While the Department of Agriculture was asked to bear a 12pc, or €323m, cut to its overall spend -- nearly four times the average -- the chips fell in Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney's favour.

Before he had lifted a finger, savings of nearly €100m were available due to the winding down of various farmyard improvement, environmental and disease eradication schemes.

But the minister still had some unenviable choices to make, with the €30m cut to the Disadvantaged Area Scheme and a €20m cut to the latest Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS 4) being the most dramatic.

The new REPS alternative, the Agri-Environmental Options Scheme has also been closed to new entrants for 2012.

Forestry schemes, which accounted for two-thirds of the entire capital expenditure budget, won a reprieve by virtue of a €27m carry-over from 2011.

When asked at a press briefing what would happen to the forestry budget next year, the minister intimated that he would be looking to the state-owned forestry company, Coillte, for greater support.

Mr Coveney said his approach to the cuts was to support active farmers.

Funding will be provided to assist the fledgling BVD disease eradication programme which is due to launch in the new year.

Beef farmers who make the effort to join discussion groups to up-skill themselves will also be entitled to a new payment, similar to the hugely successful discussion group programme that has helped transform the dairy sector.

LEVY

But one of the most intriguing measures was a new levy on dairy farmers, to help market the additional output that is expected to come on stream when milk quotas are abolished in 2015.

The 0.1c per litre levy will amount to a €5m fund which will be used to bankroll an aggressive marketing drive for the dairy sector.

While IFA president John Bryan claimed that this would come as a shock to dairy farmers, he didn't rule out the idea being gradually accepted after they were "fully consulted" on how this money would be spent.

Reacting to the packet of measures, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said the cuts, including changes to the Farm Assist Scheme, would slice €50m off family farm incomes.

It predicted that it would cost farmers €400 each on average.

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association president Gabriel Gilmartin said that the cuts gave mixed signals, but that overall, it wasn't as bad as expected.

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