'Old' farmers taking SFP case to EU Commission
The 'Young Old Farmers' pressure group, which is campaigning to correct Single Farm Payment (SFP) anomalies, look set to take their case to the European Commission.
The pressure group, whose members are mainly in their 30s, are receiving direct payments based on reference years in the early 2000s when they began farming and though they have expanded their enterprises since then their SFPs have remained unaltered.
The payment anomaly affects between 2,000 and 3,000 farmers, some of whom are on payments as low as €28/ha.
The farmers' appeal to Brussels comes just weeks ahead of EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, signing off on the final farm payment details within the new CAP agreement which runs to 2020.
More 700 affected farmers attended a packed meeting in Athlone last Friday night. The meeting was told that many of these 'young old farmers' would be leaving farming sooner rather than later unless their payment grievances were addressed in the reformed CAP.
Only 6pc of Irish farmers are under the age of 35 years and half of this cohort - or up to 3,000 farmers - are adversely affected by the payments anomaly.
Group founder Kenneth O'Brien, a suckler, sheep and beef farmer from Galway, told the Farming Independent this week that 'young old farmers' were only receiving a fraction of the EU direct payments which their holdings and farm enterprise warranted.
In his case he was receiving a payment equivalent to €28/ha or a mere €900 a year because his entitlement is based on the 2001 reference year when he began farming at the 19 years of age.
Now 33, and with a thriving suckler and sheep operation, Mr O'Brien claimed he and other farmers had been treated very unfairly in the whole CAP reform process.
Mr O'Brien estimated that his farm enterprise, as a result of years of expansion, would yield a SFP of €19, 000 if the anomaly was regularised. And unless the problem was addressed he predicted that many affected farmers would simply leave full-time farming.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice who attended the meeting said the threat aired at the Athlone meeting was not an idle one. "The reality of the matter is that if they go into the banks for loan approval to expand their farm enterprise it will not be judged on the merits of the expansion and the reputation of the farmers concerned but on the amount of their Single Farm Payment," he added.
Deputy Fitzmaurice said that both Commissioner Hogan and Minister Coveney had to come up with a formula to solve the problem. He suggested that this category of farmer could be designated as disadvantaged or something similar which could attract an increased payment that would rectify the anomaly in year one of the new CAP.
"I was down a road the other night where only one farmer was in his 40s and the rest were in their 70s. It's a no brainer. We have to encourage these young old farmers and address their problems," Deputy Fitzmaurice maintained.
Tom Turley of the IFA warned that the 'Young Old Farmers' could become farming's lost generation and he called on Minister Coveney to allow access for this group to funding available for new farming entrants under the National Reserve.
The maximum payment for new entrants is €250/ha.
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