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REPS and DAS bear brunt of Budget cuts

Cuts to payments for the 30,000 farmers in REPS 4, reductions to Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS) payments and the suspension of AEOS for the coming year are the headline measures announced in yesterday's Budget speech.

However, funding for the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme (SCWS) is to be maintained at current levels, the Targeted Agricultural Measures Scheme (TAMS) is to be reopened and funds are to be made available for BVD eradication.

Details of the cuts were outlined yesterday by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin. The second instalment of the Budget package will be delivered by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan this afternoon.

Yesterday's speech outlined where reductions of €101m in the Department of Agriculture's capital spending allocation and €242m in current spending were to be found.

A 10pc cut in REPS 4 payments, subject to EU Commission approval, was the big surprise. Given that the average payment to farmers in the scheme is close to €7,000, the move will cut close to €20m in overall receipts.

Cuts to DAS payments was the other talking point. Under the Budget proposals, the DAS allocation was cut by €30m from €220m to €190m.

This is to be achieved via a minimum stocking density and retention period and the exclusion of horses from stocking density calculations.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the focus of the cuts would be on non-productive and non-active recipients of DAS payments.

The Department confirmed that AEOS remained closed for 2012. A Department official said possible funding for a restricted scheme targeted for NATURA and SAC lands would be examined later in the year.

The overall spend in forestry was also cut to €112m, with the allocation for planting grants back by €2m. This will limit the area of plantings to 6,500ha, back from an estimated 7,500ha this year.

However, the Department pointed out that the level of premium payments and the forestry roads programme have been retained.

The subventions to Teagasc and Bord Bia have been reduced slightly to €117m and €27m respectively and further efficiency savings of €6m are being sought from State agencies. In addition, savings of €12m have been targeted in administrative cuts by the Department.

On a positive note, the current level of funding is to be retained at €40/cow for the SCWS, with €25m allocated to it overall.

TAMS is also to be re-opened in 2012 for the poultry, pig and dairy sectors, with €20m being allocated for it.

In addition, funds are to be made available for disease eradication, with aid being provided for the removal of Persistently Infected animals as part of Animal Health Ireland's BVD eradication scheme. A new screening programme for Johne's Disease is also to be launched.

Meanwhile, as part of the Department's funding evaluation, a dividend of €10m was delivered by Coillte.

Commenting on the cuts, Mr Coveney, claimed the Budget was a statement of support for the agri-food sector and a recognition of the contribution which it can make to economic recovery and future growth.

"My four key priorities are to protect farm incomes by targeting existing resources at active farmers; to support productivity and assist the upskilling of farmers in the food sector; to assure the development of the agri-food sector in line with Food Harvest 2020 targets; and reform within the Department and of its agencies," he said.

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