Fears over CAP need be allayed
A major forum on the future of CAP brought the great and the good to Tipperary Institute, Thurles, last Friday. However, it was the briefest comment from a local milk supplier which really struck a chord at the gathering and highlighted farmer fears that CAP's inability to protect incomes over the last few years will continue.
The dairy man said he had always believed that CAP was designed to support small-scale producers, while ensuring food supplies for Europe's urban populace.
However, having listened to the various speakers on Friday, he said this belief had been totally mistaken.
CAP, the local man maintained, was really about supplying cheap food to EU consumers and had nothing to do with protecting farmers or their incomes.
The Tipperary farmer pointed out that he was milking four times as many cows than his father but was a lot worse-off financially.
This is the crux of the matter for farmers. Ireland must hold as much of the €1.8bn in CAP funds which the sector receives each year.
But protecting farmers from price volatility and more competition legislation to limit the power of retail multiples is equally important.
The Commission will certainly have to act to allay the perception held by many farmers that CAP increasingly has more to do with restrictions and regulations rather than income support.
There were some divisions among farmers on whether Ireland would do better with a historic-based system for calculating individual single-farm payment or an area-based approach. But it was widely accepted that the primary objective must be to secure the maximum envelope for the country.
The debate on how these funds will be distributed internally will be irrelevant, should member states fillet the agriculture budget as part of the wider EU budget debate or if Ireland's share of the farm spend is butchered.
Given the importance of the upcoming talks process, Friday's forum was a welcome initiative and Ireland South MEP Alan Kelly deserves credit for organising it.
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