Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Hayes sets out his stall for farming

New Minister for State at the Department of Agriculture, Tom Hayes, outlines his views on the big farm issues to Martin Ryan

Martin Ryan

A practical and successful dairy farmer, Tom Hayes' life-long interest in politics didn't blossom into opportunity before he was well into his forties, and he would wait a further 15 years for the job in Government that he always wished for.

Less than a week after being appointed Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, the Fine Gael stalwart has hit the ground running, pledging to oppose farm assets, rather than income, being included in college grant tests.

He has also predicted the CAP renegotiations will be completed within three weeks, issued a warning on the Food Harvest 2020 targets and threatened food processors who breach quality control standards with the full rigours of the law.

The third-generation farmer lives with his wife, Marian, on a 140ac block that is Golden by name and nature in south Tipperary. They have three sons but no defined successor to the farm as all three pursue careers outside the farm gate.

"In the short term it is the financial issues facing farmers and planning for them that is a key problem. Medium term I see achieving the production targets of Food Harvest 2020 and adapting to the change in milk quota in dairy production as a big challenge for farmers," he said.

He believes the fallout from the CAP negotiations will be another challenge for farmers.

"I believe Minister Coveney will bring the negotiations to a conclusion before the end of this month but everybody is not going to be happy," he said. "But you can't meet everyone's demands against such an ultimatum from Europe for dramatic change. I hope people will look at it in an understanding and reasonable way.

"The commercial farmers have to be protected because they are part of the core of the business. But they can't expect to hold on to all of their entitlements. On the other hand, those with smaller entitlements or none need encouragement, but I would not see widespread redistribution."

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Is it fair that a livestock farmer with €150/ha is having to compete with a farmer that has €800/ha?

"On the face of it, it is unfair, but it has been built up historically and the people with larger entitlements have borrowed against them and they have commitments. They are the people who done the developments over the years and put money back into the economy. I would not like to stifle that kind of development that is ongoing and has huge benefits."

Is marketing good enough to ensure that farmers who meet 2020 targets will be rewarded?

"Not at the minute. That needs to be looked at and more revenue spent on promoting the products in export markets.

"I think more opportunities will open up as we increase production towards 2020, but it will have to be worked on."

He is relieved the fallout from the horse meat scandal wasn't worse.

"I'd say we have learned from it and the inspections will be so rigorous in the future this will never be allowed to happen again. The processors should not be spared the rigour of severe penalties for breaches – I would not spare them."

He believes that there is a future for part-time farmers "who can be very efficient, because they can plough the farm income back in and have the off-farm income supporting the family and education".

He also believes assessment for education grants should be carried out. "I always held that view that (the proposal to include farm assets) is grossly unfair. I am a custodian of the land and grant entitlement should be based on income, not the asset value of the land."

Irish Independent