Éamon Ó Cuív: 'It's incredible that in 2027, we will be basing farm payments on something that happened in 2000 or 2001'

Eamon O Cuiv (Niall Carson/PA)
Eamon O Cuiv (Niall Carson/PA)

Éamon Ó Cuív

The farmer needs income support if he is going to be there at all. If there are no farmers, there is no environmental protection, in particular in upland areas.

It is incredible that in 2027, we will be basing single farm payments on something that happened in 2000 or 2001. It is equivalent to basing grants in 1960 on what happened in 1933. It is the same timespan.

Nobody in his or her right senses would say there had not been monumental change in that time.

One of the monumental changes in our time that is often ignored is the issue of high-nature value  farming. If one does not farm high-nature low-productive areas, in purely agricultural production terms, Europe will not be willing to fund the CAP.

If we want to keep people in the less productive areas, we cannot give the best grants to the people with the best land and the worst grants to the ones with the worst land and hope they will all continue to farm. It is not going to happen.

The second issue with regard to CAP is what I hear about simplification. Everything gets more complicated all the time. Up to two  years ago, one could send in an area aid form oneself, but now people who are not familiar with computers or do not have access to the internet have to pay a planner to do it.

A farmer with an excellent farm could get up to €60,000 to €80,000 through the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and for  greening alone. These are schemes with very low compliance costs.

The stronger farmers I deal with would be lucky to have €10,000 payment from the BPS and greening. What does the farmer at the bottom have to do to make up a decent income? He gets up to €3,000 very handy with the ANC which has low compliance costs.

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He gets €4,000 out of GLAS, when it is open, but is locked out at the moment, and he needs two planners if he’s in the hills.

For the first time ever, the environmental schemes are not coming one after the other, so that someone leaving one can join another.  He joins the beef genomics scheme because he has a few suckler cows and gets €1,000. It is an incredibly high cost compliance scheme.

He joins the knowledge transfer scheme to find that 40pc of the money is not going to him but to the planner; good luck to the planner. He gets €750 out of that. He joins the sheep welfare scheme and gets €1,250.

When one adds it all up, he has, give or take, €20,000 out if six schemes many of which have high compliance costs.

Compare that to my man or woman with the large BPS who can make multiples of the type of money the farmer above can make and only have to apply for the one grant scheme.

We have a big problem and need a fundamental debate on it. It cannot be a superficial debate and a question of leaving everything as it is, which seems to be the tone here today.

On top of all this, most high-nature farmers have done all they have to do. All they have to actually do is continue to do what they and their forefathers and foremothers did before them.

That is what we want them to do. We do not want them to do anything radical because we know the farming taking place 50 or 60 years ago was sustainable.

Under the old REPS, one got paid because it was an area based scheme if one's farm complied with good farming practice. Some genius woke up one night and thought that was too handy for a man or woman who was already doing everything right. It was decided to make it more difficult and a measures scheme was brought in.

That means one has to do this, that and the other even if it is not needed on one's farm to get payments. If one cannot do this, that and the other, one does not get any money.

For high-nature farming, we should go back to the area based scheme whereby one is paid on the hectares. It could be done according to a model. If the farm complies to the best environmental practice at the start, one should  paid for continuing to do what we want people to do, that is, continue with best practice.

I support completely a limit on CAP payments simpliciter of €60,000. I have been in favour of that and in fact previously said the limit should be €50,000.

There seems to be some suggestion that people will be means tested for farm payments. However, the worse one's farm, the more one has to have an off-farm income. If one has 1,000 acres, it is easy to be a full-time farmer. If one has 20 acres in Connemara or even 20 acres in Ballinrobe, where the land is much better, one will not live off it.

If we do not address these anomalies and have real reform we will see land abandonment and huge social and environmental damage. This is something we cannot afford

Online Editors

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