ON A wintry day in March 2013, the Irish Farmers Association asked its members to take to the streets in Dublin to protect “productive agriculture” in Ireland.
At the time, its then president, John Bryan, said planned changes to the CAP would do “massive damage to agricultural output and the viability of tens of thousands of our most active and productive farmers in every parish in Ireland”.
Eight years on, the IFA yesterday asked its members to take to the streets of towns across the country again, with the same issue at the heart of their protests: the redistribution of farmers’ subsidies.
Back in 2013, the IFA’s worst fears were abated when then agriculture minister Simon Coveney struck a late-night deal in Brussels to limit the scope of redistribution in Ireland.
This time around, we are on the cusp of a new CAP deal being agreed this month, which will move funding of farmers towards a greater focus on environmental measures and the redistribution of monies through convergence – by fundamentally flattening payments to make them more evenly distributed, even among farmers.
The IFA says this will move money away from supporting the country’s most productive farmers and will make more farms unviable.
However, other farming organisations and some politicians say convergence of payments will, in fact, help a majority of smaller farmers, notably in the west of Ireland.
Not surprisingly, there was strong attendance reported in southern and eastern towns, but attendance was more sparse in the north-west, while Leitrim IFA did not take part.
Speaking ahead of the action, IFA president Tim Cullinan said: “Last week, I met the Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister Charlie McConalogue. I warned them that unless there is a change in the current direction of the CAP and changes to the flawed Climate Action Bill, farming in Ireland, as we know it, will cease to exist.
“A cohort of productive farmers are being hit with huge cuts under the CAP. The EU wants farmers to do more environmental actions, but they won’t fund it. To deflect from this, they have come up with proposals designed to divide farmers.”
As with everything to do the CAP, things are not black and white and convergence will, no doubt, bring undeserving winners and losers.
In Ireland, direct payments to farmers amount to around €1.8bn each year. Within that, there is both huge variation in the amounts individual farmers receive and the extent to which their income is dependent on the payments.
In 2018, the average subsidy payments made up 74pc of the family farm income of the average farm.
Drilling deeper, however, the figures show for cattle and sheep farms, payments were up to 158pc of income compared to 34pc on dairy farms.
In its latest reform of the CAP, the EU in identifying a massive collapse in farmer numbers across Europe in recent decades, has prioritised efforts to target subsidies to those farmers the “need them most”.
This, coupled with a declining overall CAP budget and a push for more environmentally friendly farming, is set to reshape the CAP post 2023 radically.
Indeed, the European Parliament, which now has a greater say in EU farm policy, is pressing even greater reform.
All this has left farm organisations such as the IFA and politicians such as the Agriculture Minister between a rock and a hard place on the future of the CAP.
Yesterday’s “Standing up for Farming” event also highlighted a very separate issue – the immense impact the Climate Action bill might impose on their ability to make a living.