Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 20 February 2018

New CAP can't work on historic payments

Noel Fitzpatrick

Any ordinary citizen may ask what the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is? To put it simply, it is about money, and who gets it.

The CAP takes 40pc of the total EU budget and most of this is now paid out in direct payments to farmers based on the historic production figures of the years 2000-2002.

The EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos has proposed to change this method of getting aid to farmers.

Unfortunately, there has been little debate on this issue among ordinary farmers and his proposals are being sidelined by the arguments of those who receive the largest payments; the argument being that it would be too much trouble to change the present entitlements structure and we should retain the status quo.

How convenient for some.

However, no one has a divine right to receive EU monies in perpetuity and it is obvious that historic payments are unfair.

80pc of the payments went to the top 20pc of recipients over the last 10 years.

The CAP is anti-competitive and in relation to social, environmental and political sustainability, it has never been at the races.

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This gives rise to a number of questions in relation to historic payments.

Is there any logic in a unit of animal production (mostly beef) receiving a payment in 2000 still drawing that payment sometime in the 2020s?

This allows a sense of almost hereditary entitlement where the grandchildren of the original recipients could still be drawing down these monies.

An end point must be put on this type of payment and that date is January 2014. What place do genuine new entrants have, regardless of age in such a system as now exists? They have none.

To add insult to injury the farmers who missed out the last time are now being told that they are not productive. Well what are most pig, poultry, horticulture, horse breeding and many other farmers who had systems that did not fit in with the pre-determined criteria to draw payments supposed to be other than productive -- indeed, many highly productive?

It is argued that the viability of larger recipient farms will be threatened if changes are made. It seems that, like a drug addict, too much of a good thing can kill you.

The longer you receive larger payments; the further these farms seem to be from economic viability, if their arguments are to be listened to.

VIABLE

How is this possible? Could these farmers learn something from farmers who operate at much lower payment levels? And finally, who is more economically viable if payments were to end tomorrow?

Are we creating a bunch of Anglo Irish Bank type farms, only viable with someone else's money? The same could be asked of the monies paid to the many questionable organisations who have managed to acquire massive payments.

It is a well established fact that a large percentage of historic payments do not go to active farmers at all. The fact is that a large part of payments are capitalised in land values.

Where land is rented, the money flows to landlords who can now draw their own historic entitlements through the renting farmer. Direct payments have created a very unproductive set of sofa farmers.

In a transparency index on how countries release data on direct payments, Ireland is placed 19th out of 27. In fact Ireland was one of four countries who put in place a system to thwart access to payment data.

During the consultation on the future of the new CAP the majority of the 5,500 contributors wanted major change away from the present model. From data the National Milk Rights Group had for 2008 and 2009 in Cork, more than 110 recipients received over €100,000 and drew multiples of that. These are sums which take ordinary workers five years and more to earn.

At present the only condition to draw payments are to keep the farm in "good shape" and that it meets minimum stocking rates -- an unlikely model for food production security.

Taking into account that Europe faces a banking and sovereign debt crisis not seen since the 1930s, it is of vital importance that the next CAP reform reflects this reality and moves agriculture onto a much more stable footing. And one where there are more winners than losers and where every farmer is a beneficiary.

Finally, the historic payment system of direct payments was put in place during one of the most shameful periods of Irish history that gave us excessive greed, benchmarking, light- touch regulation, tax breaks for the wealthy and an 'I will spend it when I have it' approach to finance.

Let's begin to repair the damage, restore some of our dignity by growing up as a nation and showing Europe that we can really change by putting this payment model in the dustbin of history.

Noel Fitzpatrick is a member of the National Milk Rights Group. Email; milkrightsgroup@hotmail.com

Indo Farming