Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Margaret Donnelly: In terms of cash in pocket, there's not much here to soften coming Brexit blow

When it comes to cash in pocket, the main demand of the Irish Farmers’ Association, a €200/cow payment for suckler farmers, was largely ignored in the Budget. Stock Image: PA
When it comes to cash in pocket, the main demand of the Irish Farmers’ Association, a €200/cow payment for suckler farmers, was largely ignored in the Budget. Stock Image: PA
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

'More money for farmers" was shouted in the Dáil chamber as Paschal Donohoe announced some of his measures for the agri sector. But yesterday's Budget was far from a hand-out to farmers. Much of the increased spend is a helping hand to the broader agri sector and will have left many farmers wondering if there is anything new in it for them.

Taxation measures, including income averaging and an extension of stamp duty relief for young farmers, are to be welcomed, but none of it is new, nor will it necessarily generate better incomes.

In fact, a key criticism of the taxation measures announced yesterday is farmers on low incomes, which many are, will still be paying €300 a year more in income tax than a PAYE employee next year.

When it comes to cash in pocket, the main demand of the Irish Farmers' Association, a €200/cow payment for suckler farmers, was largely ignored in the Budget, with the Department of Agriculture instead announcing a new scheme focused on helping farmers produce a more efficient suckler herd. At most, the measure will yield €40/cow for those involved.

But even that's hard to determine, with the Department of Agriculture holding off explaining the detail until today of what it described as its €1.6bn budget for 2019 - of which just €44m is fresh direct aid for farmers.

Part of that spend will be on a Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot Scheme, which has a budget of €20m, but looks fundamentally to be an extension to the existing Beef Data Genomics Programme, a scheme that took a lot of work to persuade farmers to join.

And the real test of this new scheme will be its uptake among farmers and whether the grants available will justify the work involved.

The most tangible element for many farmers will be the €23m increase of Areas of Natural Constraint payments, but this only brings spending levels back in line with pre-downturn levels.

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But if we step up the food chain, out of the field, this is where it seems some of the most tangible benefits for the agri-food sector will be felt.

A new Brexit loan scheme has been rolled out, which has 40pc earmarked for the agri-food sector - yet farmers are still waiting for the low-cost loan scheme announced in last year's budget to materialise, with Minister Michael Creed admitting yesterday it will be 2019 before that is on the market.

Meanwhile, the National Food Innovation Hub receives €11m and Bord Bia another €5m to its already €40m-plus annual budget.

After surviving what was one of the toughest years ever for agriculture, farmers will be disappointed that there are not more direct or obvious supports for a sector that's facing a possible battering from Brexit.

Indeed, the Budget is a far cry from the sentiment of "more money for farmers", despite what some TDs might think. The Government's farming budget will do little to allay criticisms around the repackaging of previously announced programmes as new developments. Farmers aren't that easily fooled.

Irish Independent

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