Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Jury still out on merits of CAP coupling

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The redistribution of CAP payments was enough of a test of farmer unity over the last 12 months.

But the IFA's push for a new €144m fund to re-couple payments promises to stretch farmer relations to breaking point.

Every other farm organisation in the country has strongly criticised moves from Bluebell to establish a strong coupled payment for vulnerable sectors such as sheep, sucklers, small dairy farmers and tillage farmers growing protein crops.

The IFA leadership is also drawing criticism from within its ranks for forging ahead with the plan.

County executives up and down both the east and west of Ireland have serious reservations about the logic behind such a move.

Broadly speaking, they don't want any more meddling with the €1.2bn CAP fund. It has already been cut and redistributed and sliced and diced for various environmental and demographic reasons.

There's no doubt that many farmers stand to gain from an additional coupled payment, but not all of the recipients are convinced of its merits.

The actual benefit for those who will qualify for a coupled payment will be diluted by the fact that they will be required to cough up at least 3pc of their core Single Farm Payment to part-fund it.

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There is also likely to be huge wrangling over how small or marginal a dairy farmer needs to be before they officially become a 'vulnerable' farmer. Is a 40-cow operation in west Limerick less vulnerable than a 30-cow unit near Bandon? Good luck sorting that one out.

It certainly has the potential to keep eager Department inspectors busier than ever. But does the farming community really need another scheme that it has to jump through hoops for?

There are already a raft of commendable schemes out there that will distribute the same amount of money – provided it isn't siphoned off for this particular coupling initiative.

Isn't a reduction in red tape one of the IFA's ongoing mantras?

The biggest question may well be what coupling will actually achieve. Will the original targets of these payments – drystock farmers – actually be much better off if they get up to €100 a head for their cows? It is unlikely to keep them in business if prices drop to the levels we had become accustomed to three years ago.

There is a theory out there that the biggest beneficiaries of keeping as many unviable cattle and sheep on the land as possible may well be the ultimate purchasers – the meat factories.

Securing support to ensure that the box on the Department questionnaire does not remain blank when it is handed back to Minister Coveney will be one of John Bryan's greatest challenges yet.

But the jury is still out on whether it is really worth the effort.

Irish Independent