Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

It's still all to play for in CAP reform

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

While you might not hear any of the farm organisations admit it, behind closed doors their policy people are breathing a sigh of relief.

Just a year or two ago, there were dire warnings from Europe that the huge disparity in payment levels between old and new member states would have to be rectified. To do this, we were told, would require a massive transfer of money from west to east, since there just wasn't any more money in the pot to increase payments in countries such as Latvia and Romania to average levels similar to Ireland.

Against a backdrop of collapsing banks and economies, there were also whisperings of possible cuts to the overall CAP budget. Any of the above would have had disastrous consequences for farmers here.

Instead, we are left debating what farmers need to do to qualify for roughly the same overall national envelope as in previous years.

Yes, the funding for LEADER type programmes has reduced from €350m to closer to €300m, but that is still an awful lot better than the original cut of €150m.

There will also be plenty of farmers, especially those who have built up high payments per hectare, that will feel hard done by these proposals.


But have we all forgotten 2002 when the decoupled payments were first unveiled and the general perception was that we had seven years to use the payments to get ourselves into a position where we could compete on world markets? There was no certainty then that these payments were going to last forever.

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So we should probably be looking at these latest proposals in much the same way that we feel about making it into the play-offs for next year's European Championships -- happy to have made it this far, while at the same time knowing that more battles lie ahead.

The main flashpoints will be how we decide to impose flat-rate payments. In an ideal world, we would use soil types as a reference, since the more productive soils tend to be in areas where the payments per hectare are highest. But with soil types varying so much within farms, let alone regions, this system may not be that practical.

It then becomes something of a political football, with every region or county jockeying to be classified a productive one.

All the other proposed changes will be fought until they are minimised as much as possible.

This could see greening reduced to 20pc of the budget, for example. But as they always say at this stage of the qualifiers, it's all to play for.

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