Department tells Mayo CAP meeting that the reform 'train has left station'

We hear views from the floor in Claremorris as the new regime is outlined to farmers

Challenge: Some of the huge attendance at a CAP meeting, Claremorris, Co Mayo. Photo Brian Farrell.
Challenge: Some of the huge attendance at a CAP meeting, Claremorris, Co Mayo. Photo Brian Farrell.
Jim Finnegan
Pat McNulty
Ronan Kelly
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Has the train left the station? This was one of the key questions to emerge from a packed CAP information meeting in Claremorris last week.

More 600 farmers were emphatically told by the Department of Agriculture's Andy McGarrigle that officials were now in "implementation mode" in relation to the reformed CAP farm payments that were announced by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney in January.

"If we start unravelling the proposals now, there is no way that any farmer will be paid in 2015," he claimed.

However, this view was strongly contested from the floor, with the biggest cheers on the night for farmers who vented their frustration with what they see as the ongoing unfairness of the CAP payments.

Young farmers, the sheep sector and why Ireland had opted for variable greening were also hot topics at the meeting, which was organised by the Farmers Journal.

Here are some of the views expressed on the night.

Alan, Bill and David Petrie, dairy and beef farmers from Ballina, Mayo

"Bringing down the payments won't cut out the gentlemen farmers, who will continue to tie up land with the maps.

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"I don't think the young farmer measures are enough. I didn't qualify years ago because I was only leasing land and I miss out again this time. They should be doing more to encourage the next generation."

Gerry Gunning, IFA

In response to queries as to why the IFA didn't ballot their members on the proposals:

"Every parish is represented in the IFA and we held many, many meetings. There would still be no agreement if we were in bed with all farmers. It's not a perfect outcome, but this proposal was flawed from the start.

"The redistribution was too high. But let's be honest, this was never a fair system. If a guy has 20 entitlements worth €500 each, is it fair that he gets cut down to the national average?

"There are substantial winners in this too. Even if we capped payments at a lower level, it would only generate another €400 or €500 per farmer, because taking money from the extremes doesn't generate that much for the vast majority who are in the centre.

"We have variable greening, but greening doesn't really affect grassland farmers at all – it's the tillage farmers that it's really going to cost, about €30/ha for them."

On why the IFA has refused to meet with other farm organisations such as the National Beef Association:

"The IFA has been keeping in regular contact with other farm organisations in the North and we only recently met with the Ulster Farmers' Union to discuss issues and we will continue to meet with them."

Ronan Kelly, suckler farmer in Castlerea, Roscommon

"I'm very unhappy with these reforms. My SFP is going to remain at €800, even though I've built it up from scratch since 2010. I've tried unsuccessfully to get on to a course for the Green Cert three times over the years, but to no avail. Now it looks like I'm going to be left out of the system again."

Andy McGarrigle, Department of Agriculture

"There's no provision for a Sheep Grassland Scheme in 2015, other than as a coupled payment, which the minister has chosen not to implement.

"As far as I'm concerned, the train has left the station and I'm on it. We have over 60 submissions and we looked very carefully at them all. The minister took a political decision to implement an approximation model in January, which was justified on the same basis as the model for internal convergence.

"A full 95pc of western farmers have absolutely no greening requirement, which entitles them automatically to 45pc of their payment.

"We're in implementation mode now and the proposals are very unlikely to be unravelled at this stage – otherwise we've no hope of getting started in 2015."

Sean Connaghton, dairy farmer milking 80 cows at Boyle, Roscommon

"I'm going to lose out in these reforms since I've a payment of €300/ha. I feel quite aggrieved at that since I've bought all my quota and invested huge amounts.

"Yet some of the people who are going to benefit didn't work or invest half as much in their farms."

Seamus Ferguson, Dromore West, Sligo

"There's a lot more to be explained and when the hair gets grey, there's not much point in telling us to go online to find out the detail."

Chris Kelly, Templeboy, Sligo

"The bottom lads still aren't going to get much, despite all the changes."

Francis Cusack, Newport, Co Mayo

"The maps are a holy scandal that will have to be sorted out before I can get my head around this stuff."

Pat McNulty, 30-cow dairy farmer in Swinford, Mayo

"This reform is a disaster for the west. We really need some kind of front loading. There's no way that the "train has left the station". We were never consulted down here. It can't be fair that farmers in the west are getting €3,000 a year, while others are getting that amount every week."

Pat Coyne and Tom Fadian, sheep farmers in west Mayo

"I (Pat) can't make head nor tail out of these reforms. There's no need for them to be so complex. Some of the rules are totally unworkable, like the requirement for farmers on commonages to collectively sign up to a grazing plan and stocking rate.

"But I (Tom) wouldn't buy into the notion that the small guys are being left behind."

Donie Shine, United Farmers Association

"Only 14pc of the payments go to 50pc of farmers and even after this reform, that will increase to just 18pc by 2020. Is this right? Is it right that a farmer who has a payment of €100,000 a year gets €33,000 for greening?

"I believe that if you can prove that if you have 32ha that you should be entitled to €10,000 of a payment. I was at a meeting of 10 IFA branches in West Cork last week and when I put it to them, they all voted to reject these approximation proposals. I don't think the train has left the station at all."

Eddie Davitt, IFA Sligo

"The bottom line is that there is nothing for sheep farmers in this reform. Rolling the sheep [grassland] payment into the SFP is a complete disaster for the sector. I don't think it's acceptable to simply say that the train has left the station.

"At the very least we should be able to alter its destination. Otherwise it'll be the end of the sheep sector as we know it."

Jim Finnegan, beef farmer from Williamstown, Co Galway

"I reckon that it's a done deal, but there's a lot of discontent with the IFA over this. They deserve it, because they are not doing enough for the small man, and them the richest organisation in the country."

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