Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

New CAP must go to 'active' farmers

PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

The closing date for the consultation process on Direct Payments Regulation is this Friday – September 20. This is the last opportunity we will have to ensure that underutilised land is brought into production by farmers who wish to draw down Single Farm Payment (SFP). This scope lies with the definition of 'active farmer', which still has to be finalised.

The problem of productive land not being utilised for production is being brought to my attention on a daily basis by farmers who want to secure more land in order to expand or maintain their present land area.

As recently as yesterday I had a tillage farmer, who is about to lose 60ac of conacre, telling me about a 150ac farm, on which there has been no stock this year. The owner is drawing down a SFP, which he is entitled to do, under current and proposed schemes as he is topping it – keeping it under Good Agricultural and Environment Condition (GAEC). He is not prepared to rent it out or enter any form of agreement which would allow someone else to farm it. A dairy farmer told me of an adjoining 70ac farm of top quality land with 20 weanlings "running over it". Is that what we call "freedom to farm"?

Can we justify farmers who are not utilising their lands continuing to receive a SFP and possibly an increased payment under the new system? Social welfare payments have all too often been regarded as a disincentive to work. Is SFP to be allowed to deteriorate into a similar system?

One of the justifications for the revision of the current SFP scheme is the inequality of some farmers receiving high payments as a result of what they produced in the early 2000s while others get very little.

The reform proposal will in fact do little if anything to correct the situation. The continued inequality is best demonstrated by looking at the impact of the revised payment scheme on two farmers both stocked at 2LU/ha in the base years and drawing identical payments.

If one of them is still stocked at 2LU/ha and the other has gone back to farming to the minimum standard – topping grass and taking no production – both will get identical payments under the 'new' system.

The farmer producing stock will have to meet a whole raft of regulations and restrictions and compete with food produced across the world to different, and at times lesser, standards. In contrast, the other 'farmer' has no such worries.

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The active producer will supply food for the consumer and help to revitalise the local economy with purchases of supplies, employment of labour, contractors etc. The other landowner will make little or no contribution, with the exception of some undefined environmental benefits.

Perhaps such payments may be justified to farmers on poor quality lands where production potential is poor. But ask the question why such payments should come from a budget that was originally put in place to compensate farmers for lack of support prices?

All farmers, and indeed all lands on which payments will be made, should be utilised to produce crops (including grass) for food output from the farm. The very least that should be required is that all lands be soil sampled and an appropriate fertiliser programme implemented.

Grassland should be stocked at a minimum of 75pc of its land potential and a reseeding programme put in place. All produce should meet the minimum standards.

Farmers who do not have the capacity to deliver to this standard should be incentivised to enter agreements with other farmers. The return from such a proposal would be a major boost to local economies, result in more vibrant local communities, help to achieve Food Harvest 2020 and give a significant return to the EU consumer who is funding CAP.

Now is the time for stakeholders to act if they are serious about getting a fairer CAP. This is our last chance for several years to support progressive farmers to provide access to land, retain their due share of funds under CAP reform and provide quality food.

It is now over to the farming organisations, agribusiness, consumer groups and all stakeholders to have their say in shaping the future for farming in Ireland and to clearly show their policies. If you feel that your organisation is not representing your views, make a submission yourself or do so with a group of like-minded farmers.

If you wish to get a comprehensive overview and details of the many other issues, you should consult the Department of Agriculture's website which has four documents under 'CAP Public Consultation Process' to assist in deliberations and for written views to be given.

Submissions marked CAP Consultation should be sent by email to or by post to Kevin Smyth, Assistant Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Floor 5 East, Agriculture House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

Patrick J Phelan MAgrSc is a farm consultant based in Tipperary and a member of the ACA and ITCA

Irish Independent