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Schemes cull fuels fears of more cuts

Concern is growing that farm stamp duty concessions could be next in the firing line after €90m of cuts have been imposed on various farm schemes over the past number of weeks.

Furious farmers have accused Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney of paying lip service to agriculture while at the same time slashing essential schemes on the ground.

The shock suspension of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS) and major cuts to the Agri Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) have provoked deep anger in the agriculture sector.

However, farmers could find their future expansion plans further limited if the stamp duty exemption for farm consolidation, due to expire on June 30, is not renewed. The exemption was conspicuous by its absence from the Budget and the Finance Bill and, with just two weeks to go to its expiry, there has been no indication that it will be renewed.

Figures released by the Department of Agriculture on Friday show that just €24.71m of the €90m available for TAMS was applied for before its shock suspension on Wednesday.

Hundreds of farmers, many of whom were waiting for planning permission to meet scheme requirements, were caught unawares by the shock suspension.

Up to 5pm last Wednesday, 18 pig farmers had applied to the Sow Welfare Scheme for €2.04m in funding, while 35 poultry farmers applied for €11.15m in funding.

By the same date, 909 sheep farmers had applied for €2.23m in sheep fencing/handling grants, 813 dairy farmers had applied for €9.26m to the dairy equipment scheme, while just eight farmers had applied for €30,000 rainwater harvesting grants.

No payments have been made under any of the above schemes to date.

ICMSA deputy president John Comer said the TAMS suspensions highlighted a fundamental contradiction between the Government's "media-focused cheerleading" for the farming and food sectors and the actual policy being implemented, which he said "fell very far short of what is required".

IFA president John Bryan called for the TAMS measures to be immediately reinstated, adding that the decision to cut them flew in the face of Food Harvest 2020 targets.

Pig and poultry farmers are set to be some of the the worst affected by the grant suspensions because of looming deadlines for EU-enforced changes to housing requirements.

IFA pig chairman Tim Cullinan called on Minister Coveney to either reinstate the grant schemes immediately or else renegotiate the housing improvement deadline with Brussels.

"We all know how much pressure pig farmers are under already," he said. "They can't get credit and these grants would have accounted for 30pc of the cost of the job."

Only 18 pig farmers had applied to the scheme before it was suspended.

"Many pig farmers were tied up in planning issues. They would have had their applications in if they didn't have the red tape to go through," insisted Mr Cullinan.

Meanwhile, the TAMS suspension will lead directly to job losses in the dairy equipment sector, according to Willie Walsh, managing director of Packo Fullwood, who said he would have to look at making some of his 40 staff temporarily redundant.

Indo Farming