Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Changes to SFP could be very divisive

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The latest draft document on Commission plans for CAP reform for the 2014-2020 period has the farm organisations up in arms.

The crux of the problem centres on the move away from the use of historical reference periods for calculating the single farm payment (SFP) and the timeframe in which this is to be achieved.

Speaking at the Agricultural Science Association conference in Maynooth last week, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney admitted that there was a strong push at European level to get every member state to axe the historical basis for farm payments and instead switch to a simplified area-based payment.

But while he accepted that Ireland couldn't cling to a system based on what was happening on farms 10 or more years ago, he said simplistic changes to the payments would be equally unacceptable.

Mr Coveney acknowledged that 80pc of the payments were paid to 20pc of Irish farmers, but he said that this 20pc accounted for 80pc of the production in Irish agriculture.

Much has been made lately on how regional flat-rate SFP payment may be introduced. An interesting contribution to the conference on this issue was delivered by the EU Commission's Dr Tassos Haniotis.


Dr Haniotis urged policymakers here not to get hung up on using administrative boundaries to determine how a new payment system should work. He said there were options open to Department officials when they were drawing up alternatives to the historically based system.

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"If you based the different payment regions on soil types for example, you would probably find that the payments would not change drastically at a regional level because higher payments tend to be located in the areas with more productive soils," he said.

The farm organisations are clearly worried that changes to SFP could severely disrupt farm incomes and expansion plans. The IFA has slammed the greening proposals as "excessively rigid" and is also strongly opposed to the movement of payments, such as the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, from Pillar I to Pillar II.

If the current proposals form the basis for changes to CAP, then active farmers, particularly in the intensive drystock and tillage sectors, face serious reductions in payments. More extensive farmers will benefit, while payments to many dairy farmers could also increase. A situation where losses by one group result in benefits to another has the potential to become extremely divisive. It's just as well the latest leaked documents are just proposals. There will be a lot of horse trading to be done between now and the final agreed package in 2013.

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