'Armchair farmers' face entitlements clampdown

Number of leasing arrangements has trebled since 2014 with 9,526 farmers now opting in

Although entitlements are not tied to land, each one must be supported by a hectare of eligible land
Although entitlements are not tied to land, each one must be supported by a hectare of eligible land
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The Department of Agriculture is set to clamp down on so-called 'armchair' farmers who lease out their entitlements.

It comes as figures from the Department show that the value of leased entitlements has more than trebled since 2014.

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Entitlements worth more than €28m were leased to active farmers by 9,526 individuals last year. This compares to just €9m in entitlements which were leased by 1,260 individuals in 2014.

Briefing TDs on the CAP reform recently, the Department's Paul Savage said whether a farmer could continually keep leasing entitlements if not actively farming was something officials were seeking to address.

"We are aware of the issue," the Department's assistant secretary-general said.

"It is an ongoing bugbear within the system in terms of how people can continue to qualify for payments," said Mr Savage.

"It is an issue we will have to look more seriously at as part of the evolution of the proposals over the coming period," he added.

"We are engaging in a process of reflection on that [the leasing of entitlements] in terms of where we go with that process over the coming period."

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Mr Savage conceded that there were challenges in terms of trying to make sure that payments go to active farmers.

This matter has also been raised by IFA. It is insisting CAP payments have to be targeted towards what it describes as 'active farmers'. "This issue was raised at our regional meetings where farmers who had exited farming had leased their land and entitlements and were therefore the ultimate beneficiaries of the Basic Payment," a spokesman for IFA said.

"The IFA CAP project team met this week and considered some of the Department's statistics on the level of entitlements currently leased and we are seeking further clarity on these," he added.

Land leasing market

However, the IFA cautioned that any reform of the current entitlement regime needs to be "considered carefully" as changes could have "unintended consequences for the land leasing market".

While the Department said there were no specific technical reasons to explain the differences in the level of entitlement leasing between 2014 and 2018, it noted that 2014 was one of the reference years used to establish payments for the CAP regime post 2015.

This may have restricted the availability of entitlements for leasing in 2014 as the owners held them that year to ensure they retained the payments for the period 2015 to 2020.

The Department said that online systems for leasing entitlements has made it easier for farmers to apply for such entitlement transfers - this process is facilitated by agents and auctioneers.

Although entitlements are not tied to land, each one must be supported by a hectare of eligible land. Consequently, by leasing entitlements, farmers can adjust the scale of their operations annually.

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