Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Friday 17 November 2017

Comer counters ó Cuív's plans for SFP share-out

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The Irish presidency's front-loading proposal to the last EU Council of Farm Ministers meeting was for a single farm payment (SFP) of €314 for the first 32ha, with a payment of €190/ha (€182/ha when the 3pc cut is factored in) on all remaining eligible lands.

Fianna Fáil's agriculture spokesman Eamon Ó Cuív told a CAP conference at the Red Cow Hotel, Dublin on Saturday that he had received confirmation of the proposal in answer to a Dáil question.

Deputy Ó Cuív said the inequity of the current SFP distribution – where 70pc of farmers got less than €10,000, while 243 received more than €100,000 – meant that a serious revamp was necessary.

However, he said he did not agree with a simple 'flat rate' payment mechanism tabled by EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, but was in favour of front loading payments on the first 20-30ha and capping total payments at around €50,000 per farmer.

"Under the Ciolos proposals an awful lot of medium-sized farmers would be crucified," Deputy Ó Cuív said, adding that they would not have the "pocket power" to survive such a financial hit.

He told the conference that a variant of a French proposal for a two-tier payment system that would give a top-up payment on the first 50ha would be fairer overall and would keep payments at a high enough level for commercial farmers.

ICMSA president John Comer did not agree and said such a system would lead to landowners "living in Dublin" drawing payments down the country. But Deputy Ó Cuív said that by requiring SFP applicants to keep a minimum stocking rate, payments could be targeted at "active farmers".

"No farmer who doesn't comply with that minimum stocking level should be entitled to get any payment," Mr Ó Cuív said, unless they had a derogation on environmental grounds. Gerry Gunning of the IFA accepted the historic system for calculating SFP entitlements was gone.

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But he said change had to be managed and that the amount of money taken off productive farmers had to be "minimised".

Funds for redistribution had to be targeted at active farmers using "objective criteria" and could not be directed at inactive or hobby farmers, Mr Gunning added.

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin admitted that getting the balance right on CAP reform would not be an easy task. "We cannot realistically cater for every hectare owned by every landowner in the country who is currently under the average SFP, without destroying active, commercial cattle and sheep farmers who are currently above the average," Mr Gilmartin warned. "It is unacceptable to contemplate cutting farmers by 20pc or 30pc who are in receipt of modest payments, either in terms of the hectare or in terms of the whole farm. As an example, I think of the full time cattle farmer with €500 on 60 hectares, or the full time sheep farmer with €350 on 80 hectares."

Convinced

However, Mr Gilmartin said he passionately believed there are many farmers with low payments through no fault of their own who need an increase.

"We are convinced that there must be a way to target the increase per hectare, rather than allocating it to every hectare in Ireland," he maintained.

However, the suggestion of a more radical redistribution of SFP monies was supported by a number of speakers, including Donie Shine of the Farm Family Rights Association and Bertie Wall of the United Farmers Association.

Trinity College economics professor Alan Mathews took issue with farm organisations' assertion that any change in the distribution of payments would negatively impact on farm output nationally.

The IFA has claimed that the proposed CAP changes could cost 80,000 of the country's most active farmers up to €250m each year and could result in the ambitious expansion targets set out in Food Harvest 2020 being missed.

"There is no evidence that if we change the payment mechanism that it effects productivity at a national level," Prof Mathews said. With regard to Pillar II, all of the speakers agreed that the Government had to agree to guarantee 47pc co-funding to maximise the potential for the next Rural Development Plan.

However, Deputy Ó Cuív cautioned that the any new agri-environment scheme would not be the "cash cow" that REPS was because compliance conditions were likely to be more stringent.

He also questioned whether forestry schemes might be part-funded under any new rural development package rather than remain totally exchequer funded as they are at present.

Irish Independent