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Sunday 24 March 2019

CAP must strengthen the definition of an 'active farmer' - Macra

Macra na Feirme president James Healy on the family farm in Donoughmore, Co Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Macra na Feirme president James Healy on the family farm in Donoughmore, Co Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Young farmers are the lifeblood and future of rural communities providing direct and indirect employment, raw materials for exports and further processing and environmental and countryside management, according to Macra and the next CAP must reflect this.

In its CAP proposal, Macra na Feirme proposes the strengthening of the active farmer definition and also removing the five year rule which will result in the redistribution of direct payments. Ensuring financial support is directed to active farmers, will allow for a similar level of support to be maintained, but in a more focused fashion.

"The future of agriculture and rural areas relies on young farmers; however it is imperative the necessary resources and supports are made available to allow the development of their farm businesses to fulfil this expectation."

It also says that not only should the CAP budget be protected, but there should be an ambition to increase it if possible in light of the challenges which we face as young farmers at farm level.

"Increasing generational renewal in agriculture and effecting structural change in the age profile of farmers, requires our proposals to be implemented. To ensure all young farmer proposals are adequately financed, Macra na Feirme calls for the commitment of a minimum of 10% of the total CAP budget to be dedicated toward young farmer measures."

According to the European Commission (2013), 14pc of Europe’s farmers are under the age of 40, and therefore qualify as a young farmer.

"Expanding the young farmer top up to allow its availability to all young farmers, will act to increase the proportion of CAP spending to one of the smallest age demographics and therefore the impact on the overall budget should be small.

"A stronger active farmer definition will result in a fairer distribution of payments to not only young farmers and new entrants, but to all farmers."

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It is also calling for all young farmers to have an agricultural education in order to receive a direct payment.

Five-Year Rule

"A young farmer is defined as persons below the age of 40 and all qualifying individuals should receive equal young farmer support up to such an age.

"All young farmers deserve to receive the same level of support up to the age of 40 across all CAP measures. In a bid to improve access to land, many young farmers enter into collaborative arrangements such as leases, partnership or share farming arrangements. Any young farmer that enters into a collaborative arrangement should not be financially penalised and allowed access to the same support as other young farmers."

The disparity, it says, as a result of the current five-year rule criteria has produced two tiers of young famers. "This results in young farmers competing with each other as the young farmer who has commenced farming in the last five years receives all the benefits of the current CAP programme where as the “older” young farmer is at a disadvantage as a result of the date they commence their farming careers."

It also says that allowing Member States the option whether or not to apply the active farmer definition is not fair. "It is pivotal the same definition of the active farmer is upheld by all Member States, with no flexibility offered to Member States to apply the definition in their own right."

What is an active farmer?

Macra is calling for a strengthening of the active farmer definition will result in more targeting of payments towards progressive active farmers.

Macra na Feirme recommends the inclusion of the following parameters when redefining the active farmer definition:

• Mandatory completion of a 5 year farm business development plan

• Payments granted to farmers delivering public goods

• Mandatory completion of continuous farm health and safety training courses

• Implementation of a minimum agricultural activity for example stocking rates, cropping rates etc set by individual Member States

• Farmers have a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training plan to provide them with the ongoing skills and knowledge needed to foster innovation and embrace the latest technologies

• Mandatory completion of a farm succession plan for farmers upon reaching the age of 63 to promote intergenerational renewal.

It also calls for measures to be included in CAP 2020 to ensure each Member State is mandatorily required to put aside funds to guarantee a continuously funded National Reserve every year to provide all young farmers under the age of 40 and new entrants with national average payments.

"This will therefore provide the same opportunities for young farmers and new entrants who have land with no payments or payments that are below the national average payment."

Direct Payments

Macra says it views the direct payment model as the most straightforward means of rewarding, vibrant, efficient, sustainable active farmers and that relying on historical reference year payments and views it as barrier to the young farmer entering into agriculture.

It is proposing a new model of distributing direct payment be introduced calculated on a four-way budgetary split as follows:

• 40pc of budget for an economic viability area payment to farmer based on individual level of the 2019

convergd area based payments

• 30pc targeted payment, paid on achievement of climate change and environmental measures

• 20pc targeted payment, paid on achievement of farm business development measures

• 10pc Young Farmer Measures – Mandatory young farmer top-up up to the age of 40 and ongoing National Reserve open to all young farmers and new entrants to provide farmers with national average payment.

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