Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Active farmers to get SFP priority - Coveney

Plan to fund suckler cow scheme by levy on SFP is off the agenda

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Ireland should use Europe's model of "approximation" to distribute the single farm payment (SFP) to farmers post-2013, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has proposed.

The model, which was used by the European Commission to determine the agriculture budget allocation for each member state, could be used to bring all farmers' single farm payments closer to the national average payment in Ireland of €270/ha.

The current CAP reform proposals would converge all payments to the national average. However, Minister Coveney has now suggested that payments would vary within a new band above and below the €270/ha average. This band would be narrower than the current range of payments but allow greater flexibility than the fixed average proposed by Commisioner Ciolos. But details of the exact mechanism were not outlined by the minister.

Speaking at the ICMSA AGM on Saturday, Mr Coveney said Ireland would be fighting for maximum flexibility in how member states would distribute their national single farm payments.

"The area-based, flat-rate payment doesn't suit us here in Ireland," Mr Coveney said. "We want farmers to be rewarded for producing food, not for owning land," he said.

"Under the flat-rate, area-payment model, some of the most productive farmers would lose 30-50pc of their payment. But we cannot keep the current model. If we did, the single farm payment in 2017 would be based on what a farmer did in 2002-2003. That does not make sense."

If the Commission allows member states to tailor their own single payment distribution, one of a number of models being examined was approximation, he told ICMSA members.

"It moves everyone closer to the centre but it is not an equalisation of payment across all farmers," he said.

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Outgoing ICMSA president Jackie Cahill described the Commission's proposal to use 2014 as a reference year for future payments as "madness" that would increase the cost of land to farmers actually farming and lead to more land being under-utilized.

Mr Coveney warned farmers not to make any commercial decision based on the current CAP reform proposals, which include the 2014 reference year.

"This is not the final agreement," he insisted. "We are not happy with the plan for 2014 to be a reference year and we will be urging the Commission to give member states the flexibility to adopt a different reference year."

The minister poured cold water on reports that he intended to slice off 1.5pc of the single farm payment in order to fund the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme.

"I don't want to rule anything in or out at this stage, but I wouldn't be overly concerned about this if I were you," he said. "I had to keep all my options open five months ago but it is far less likely now that we will use that tool now."

The minister also revealed that his Department has made detailed taxation proposals to the Department of Finance in advance of next month's Budget which could improve land consolidation and mobility.

"Only 7pc of our farmers are under 35 years of age and 25pc are over 70," he said. "That is not a model on which to base our growth aspirations."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny reassured farmers that his Government had no intention of doing down agriculture in the Budget. "The sector is far too important to do that," he insisted.

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