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Industry to lead jobs drive not Government

The big news this week is the Budget and, for farmers, how the projected cuts are likely to hit their incomes.

There are going to be losers. Cuts of €101m to the Department of Agriculture's total capital spend and a €242m reduction in current spending mean that tough choices will have to be made.

Unfortunately, the pressure of deadlines meant that this column had to be penned an hour before Minister Howlin got to his feet and a day before Minister Noonan filled in the remainder of what was being billed by the Government as a gloomy set of accounts.

The tone for Budget speeches was set on Sunday by Taoiseach Enda Kenny's sombre national address.

While the detail of the Budget will be critically important on many fronts, the general feeling you get from Government announcements these days is that business projects can seek support of any kind as long as they don't expect funding.

The proposals to get the sugar beet industry back up and running is a case in point. Last week saw a second feasibility study published on the issue by the Irish Sugar Beet Refinery Group.

As with the previous study from BEET Ireland, the findings were positive and suggested that the industry could support up to 5,000 jobs on farms, in the sugar plant and in supporting industries. It would also substitute the €200m being paid on sugar imports with domestic produce.

However, despite the benefits on offer for the farm sector and the wider economy, the Government has insisted that no financial aid will be forthcoming to relaunch the sugar industry.

Indeed, the recent BEET Ireland information meeting in Athy was told that Government reaction to the proposal was that political support for the initiative could be counted on, but don't look for money.

It is hard to square this attitude with the Taoiseach's statement that creating and maintaining jobs would be a key plank of Government policy.

Whatever about maintaining jobs, I doubt that this Government holds out too much hope of creating jobs given the current turmoil in the euro zone and continuing pressures on public finances.

There is a lesson there for the food industry and for the ambitious goals set out in Food Harvest 2020.

These targets will have to be met with investment delivered from within the industry. Government assistance will be limited to providing the policy framework.

There isn't a whole lot of Christmas cheer in that for the thousands on the dole or facing emigration.

Indo Farming