Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Budget 2013: Low income farmers hit

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

You could be forgiven for emerging from the Budget briefing in Agriculture House last week with the impression that agriculture was a real winner this year.

For example, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told the assembled journalists that he was "putting almost as much money into the suckler as before" – the before referring to the €25m that was allocated to the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme last year.

However, the fact €25m is being ear-marked for the suckler sector again in 2013 neatly side-steps the fact that €10m of this is money that will be owed to farmers participating in this year's suckler cow scheme.

The reality is that somewhere between €86m and €89m is being sliced off next year's spending in agriculture.

Again, this was presented as something of a victory for Mr Coveney and his team, since he was originally tasked by the Department of Finance to find savings of €114m.

And yet again the detail presents a less rosey version. Part of the 'savings' will be accounted for by kicking €25m or approximately 14pc of REPS payments due to farmers this year into 2014.

Mr Coveney was also keen to stress how much he's doing for smaller, more vulnerable farmers on more marginal land. "Some people have accused me of not looking after the smaller farmer. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said emphatically.

The €12m of cuts to the Disadvantaged Area Scheme and the €15m hit to the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme (now to be called the Beef Data Programme) have certainly been designed to target the larger farmers involved.

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The new suckler cow scheme will now only pay €20/cow up to a maximum of 20 cows.

This is designed to cater to the majority, since the average suckler farmer has 16 cows, according to figures provided by the minister.

At the same time, it strives to maintain the very impressive flow of data on key breeding traits such as calving difficulty that participants in the scheme have generated.

But the ICSA's secretary general, Eddie Punch, said that the most reliable data came from herds closer to 60 cows in size, since these farmers had more progeny to compare.

Similarly, the big losers in the Disadvantaged Area Scheme will be the larger lowland farmers.

Farmers in mountainous areas will be untouched by the cuts, while their lowland counterparts will suffer an average cut of 11pc or about €350 per farmer as only the first 30ha of land qualifies for a payment.

However, perhaps the most vulnerable group of farmers in the entire sector are being subjected to a serious cut, albeit a cut that didn't come out of the agriculture budget.


Up to €5m is set to be taken out of the Farm Assist budget, a scheme designed to support more than 11,000 of the lowest income farmers in the country.

The IFA calculates that a fulltime farmer with an annual income of €15,000 and two children will see their weekly allowance cut by nearly €50/week, or more than €2,550 a year.

Dairy farmers might also feel hard done-by following the scrapping of the €900 payment for all but new participants in discussion groups. However, Mr Coveney offered cold comfort.

"It's not acceptable to keep paying farmers to turn up to discussion groups to get information that makes them more profitable," he said.

Instead, he has bumped up the amount that he is allocating to the capital investment Targeted Agricultural Measures Scheme (TAMS) "to set them up for post 2015."

While few tears will be shed for Department of Agriculture staff, they've seen their staff numbers fall by 200 in the last year alone.

Costs fell by €12m in 2012 and are projected to fall again in 2013 by €8m, largely due to savings in wages.

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