Analysis: Brexit and other factors will put pressure on CAP direct payments
The importance of direct payments in supporting the farm sector was underlined yet again in the release of the Teagasc National Farm Survey income figures last week.
Across all farm systems direct payments comprised 75pc of farm income in 2016 and made up more than 100pc of income on cattle and sheep farms, meaning that the price typically received for beef and sheep meat is below the cost of production.
There is sometimes a view that the more lucrative dairy farm sector is not in receipt of direct payments. This is not the case. With a falling milk price, down 9pc on the previous year, direct payments were particularly important to dairy farmers in 2016 making up almost 40pc of income last year. The reliance on direct payments is also regionally concentrated. The Teagasc figures showed that payments comprised over 120pc of farm income on average in the Border region.
The importance of the subsidies from Brussels to the farm sector is clear.
Direct payments support income, help to sustain farm businesses that would not be viable otherwise, act as a buffer to volatile commodity prices, assist farmers with investment and repayment of debt. Where linked to agri-environmental schemes, these payments also support environmental protection. Beyond the farm gate direct payments also pay dividend. The multiplier effect of agriculture in rural areas is well understood. The indirect support of direct payments to the farm input sector, the food processing sector and the wider rural economy, in terms of the spending power of farm households, has also been documented.
Of course the direct payment system is not without its flaws.
Recent data showing the top 10 recipients of direct payments in Ireland received more than €200,0000 per annum is not good publicity.
But what is the future of direct payments? Can payments be maintained in the next reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)? Will Brexit impact on the future of the CAP? These were all questions put to Commissioner Hogan at the EU Citizen's Dialogue in Kilkenny on the day after the release of the farm income results.