IFA warns that farmers face ruin if EU subsidies are cut
Irish beef, sheep and tillage farmers will go out of business unless strong subsidies from Brussels continue, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president has warned.
Ahead of crunch EU negotiations on the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020, Brexit and climate change, Joe Healy said it would be a defining year for farming
"Now is the moment for this Government and our Taoiseach to show their mettle by standing up for the CAP," said the Galway farmer, adding that the subsidies were responsible for injecting €1.8bn into the rural economy each year.
"We cannot have a situation where EU farmers have their incomes cut because the UK decided to leave," Mr Healy warned as he addressed the 63rd IFA Annual General Meeting.
"CAP cannot become the fall guy for any new initiatives. The coffers cannot be raided for new programmes."
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who quipped that nobody "gets up earlier than the Irish farmer", said Ireland would continue to argue for the retention of a "strong, well-funded and effective CAP post-2020. We believe that if the EU wants to do new things, and it should, we should find new money".
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the CAP budget would be a "big task" and we could not "shy away from debate" on contributions with the hole left by the UK's exit.
Finances closer to home turf were also under the spotlight as Mr Healy admitted it had been a challenging year for the IFA.
"Farmers do support us and this is evident in our membership figures holding very strongly," he said. "I would ask all farmers to support the association by paying their levies. It is fair and proportionate and represents a contribution of just €1.50 in every €1,000 of sales."
The farm lobby group recorded an operational loss of €1.4m to the end of March 2017. A decline in farmer EIF (European Involvement Fund) levies collected from farmers on produce sold saw income for the association drop 16pc to €16.2m.
Mr Healy pointed out a three-year plan was in place to close the current deficit and return to a balanced outcome over the next three years. Mr Healy said it would be a combination of rebuilding income and reducing costs, however, redundancies were not being considered.
Director general of the IFA, Damian McDonald, who was appointed over a year ago after the organisation was engulfed in a pay controversy in 2015, said they were facing a hugely challenging year for farming and there was a structured plan in place.
On the potential of an EU trade deal with the South American Mercosur bloc, including beef powerhouses of Brazil and Argentina, Mr Varadkar said they were working hard to ensure Ireland's voice was heard. "Ireland without our beef industry, quite simply, would not be Ireland," he said.
On Brexit, Mr Varadkar said they were confident a hard Brexit could be avoided but recognised the agri-food sector was uniquely exposed with 35pc of exports worth €4.4bn going to the UK.
Mr Healy said a situation cannot be permitted where the UK is free to open its markets to low-standard or low-value products from outside the EU.
He said farmers were playing their part on climate change and would continue to do so.
"Agriculture saved this country following the last economic crash and it has played a huge part in rebuilding the economy," said Mr Healy. "Now that the economy is improving, don't forget farmers."
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