HIGH-earning farmers will lose the most in a forthcoming overhaul of subsidies -- but lower earners will get more, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday.
Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships in Heathpark near New Ross, Mr Coveney said getting a deal on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was the most significant challenge of his career.
He also warned farmers he cannot ringfence national funding for agriculture in the forthcoming Budget.
Mr Coveney said he is pushing for CAP reforms which would see the highest-earning Irish farmers losing part of their single farm payment. But lower earners would gain and those in the middle would stay close to the current average payment of €275 per hectare. It would be a compromise between the European Commission wish for flat-rate payments per hectare and the more limited redistribution being sought by Ireland.
EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos wants a redistribution of payments to help eastern European farmers catch up with western ones.
Mr Coveney believed he can secure a deal during Ireland's EU presidency next year.
"In many ways it's the most significant challenge of my political career so far," Mr Coveney said.
It would be a difficult to get a compromise deal for 27 countries, but Ireland has support from Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Denmark and France, he said.
And while Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin yesterday echoed calls from farm organisations to ringfence spending on agriculture in the next Budget, Mr Coveney said he could not make any guarantees.
"I'm trying to deliver as much as I can but I do have severe restrictions in terms of budgetary ceilings that are imposed on me both by the Department of Finance and the troika," he said.
He said his job was to get what he could for farming and he would use the tax system effectively, but couldn't promise to ringfence spending.
"Its certainly far too early for me to be making absolute commitments in terms of ringfencing funds," he said.