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Independent.ie

Friday 23 February 2018

'Farmers cannot be “green” if they are in the “red” all the time' - Farmers voice concern over future of CAP

Farmers pictured at Tullow Mart Show and Sale. Photo Roger Jones.
Farmers pictured at Tullow Mart Show and Sale. Photo Roger Jones.
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Farmers cannot be “green” if they are in the “red” all the time came the warning as the future of Ireland’s payments from Brussels were up for discussion.

A keen focus on the environment has been flagged as a key part of the newly-revised Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) post-2020 that currently delivers a €1.8bn purse of monies to 130,000 farm families each year.

At the first of a series of open debates on its future farmers raised issues including emissions, generational renewal, flooding, might of the supermarkets chains, need for a commonsense approach on payment penalties, over zealous inspections and an exodus of people from farming.

One of the prime concerns repeatedly raised by farmers was also the future budget for CAP with the UK’s exit set to leave a major hole in the finances.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) livestock chair Angus Woods warned the Irish government must redouble its efforts for extra funding as it needs to be “bolstered up”.

Mr Woods said they could talk about the environment but when it comes to income farmers are lagging behind. “You can’t be green if you are in the red all the time,” he added.

“We support a huge amount of people here who make more than what the average farmer makes,” he said.

Mr Woods said there was no transparency in the marketplace and farmers were forced to shoulder all the burden of the risk.

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Income stability

IFA Kilkenny chair James Murphy said his best “income stability tool” was his basic payment and it must be protected.

John Malone from the Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners warned a “fully funded CAP” is crucial and the budget cannot “be raided”. “It is a low income sector that is struggling to survive,” he said. “We want to see support for the environmental sector and keeping the hills in good condition. It has to be rewarded.”

Liam Delaney, a suckler beef farmer in Portlaoise, said there were many changes required if the officials were serious about “keeping the active farmer” He pointed out he was 40 years old and the youngest farmer in his area. “It is a very serious position and people need to understand it,” he said.

Gerard Rochford from Wexford felt there was “no encouragement” for young people to come into an industry where there is no viable living. “If it continues there’ll be a crowd of old men going around on walking sticks,” he said.

“No businessman” would ever touch a farm

The origins of the CAP must be remembered, as it was set up because Europe went after cheap food, pointed out Adam Goodwin, from Kildare, an IFA county secretary.

Now tillage farmers are getting the same price for grain as they were paid 30 years ago, he said. “No businessman” would ever touch a farm, he pointed out.

James Hill, a Wicklow farmer, said the basic payments from Europe accounted for virtually all of the income for farmers in the tillage and sheep sectors. “It is an abysmal place to be,” he said. He claimed there was talk about the Dublin Airport Authority expecting flight traffic to expand yet there was a lot of concerns raised about “cows farting but not about jet fuel”. “Let’s hit the farmer, he is an easy target,” he surmised on attitudes to emissions.

Brexit is the “big elephant” in the room

Brendan Gleeson, assistant secretary at the Department of Agriculture, who urged people to have their say on the future of CAP, said they were keenly aware that the “big elephant” in the room was Brexit.

“Ireland will not be found wanting when it comes to fighting for the budget,” he told the packed room at the Talbot Hotel in Carlow, with the parcel of monies for the policy due to be decided in the coming months.

Mr Gleeson said if they wanted strong funding then they must be able to show that it “benefits all citizens”. “It struck me how resilient the agriculture sector was in terms of exports during an appalling crisis from 2008,” he said.

Minister for Forestry Andrew Doyle said without an “adequate budget” the aims of CAP won’t be achievable.

He pointed out if each country upped their contributions fractionally to 1.12pc of GDP then the “budget will hold” in its current format.

Do more for the environment

David Buckley from the Agriculture Department’s EU Division set out some of the important issues in the European Commission’s CAP Communication on the ‘Future of Food and Farming’. He pointed out there was a strong desire in the revised CAP to do more for the environment.

Mr Buckley said there was a strong commitment to direct payments in the paper, with suggestions being sought on how they might be better targeted such as compulsory capping, moving them from larger to smaller farms or ensuring supports are targeted at active farmers were just some of the suggestions put forward.

Other issues highlighted in it are supports for young farmers with just 6pc of EU farmers below the age of 35 years.

Teagasc economist Kevin Hanrahan said farmers needed to remind “the rest of society that agriculture was very important economically” and it accounted for 8pc of the modern economy.

He said agriculture and food manufacturing was key for jobs, with farm families spending money in the rural economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Tadhg O’Mahony said farmers were the “custodians and guardians of Ireland’s environment”.

He said there were challenges and they needed to “decouple” the link between increased intensity of agriculture and a decrease in water quality.

“There is a hell of a lot being done and sometimes it is not always acknowledged,” he said.

Jack Nolan, from the Agriculture Department’s environment division, said the likes of Danone, Nestle and the big buyers all want to know about the environment when they purchase Irish produce. He said the record €12.6bn in exports last year were “dependent on our green image and origin”.

He pointed out ways of cutting down on emissions such as using protected urea, low emission slurry spreading equipment and making the dairy herd more efficient.

Mr Nolan said a more “collaborative approach” was needed for CAP as compliance was seen as negative and forced.

“Nobody consciously goes out to pollute but we have to get away from the idea of compliance,” he said.

Six CAP consultation public meetings have been organised as part of the Department’s consultation process on CAP post-2020. The public consultation runs until Friday, March 23, 2018, with submissions on its future being actively sought.


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