Farm subsidies and supports for rural areas will total almost €10 billion between 2023-2027, the Government announced today.
The supports, which include funding from both the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and the national exchequer, come as Irish farmers face significant challenges in meeting new Climate Action targets.
This latest Government commitment to farm supports, critical to the viability of the majority of farmers in Ireland, will also come with the toughest demands to date for environmental improvements on farms.
Commenting at an announcement of the funding this morning, Taoiseach Michael Martin said the investment of €2.3bn of national funding in rural development measures emphatically demonstrates the Government’s continuing commitment to farmers, to rural areas and to the rural economy. This brings total funding for the plan to €9.8bn.
"It also demonstrates my own, and this Government’s, determination to follow through on commitments made in the Programme for Government, for example in relation to the allocation of carbon tax funding to a flagship agri-environment and climate measure to encourage farmers to farm in a greener and more sustainable way, and in relation to the alignment of Ireland’s organic farming area with the current EU average.
"It is an enormous vote of confidence in the sector’s ability to meet the considerable challenges it faces, and to secure an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future, for farming families and for society more widely," he said.
Today's announcement also saw Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, make a number of crucial decisions regarding how the funding would be allocated to farmers.
From 2023, farmers with direct payments above the national average will see them reduced, so that all farmers’ payment values will reach a minimum level of 85pc of the national average value by 2026.
Further, some 10pc of farmers’ direct payments will be distributed through a new front-loading mechanism in a bid to offer more support to small and medium-sized farmers.
It is also proposed that 25pc of the funding for farmers’ direct payments will be set aside for eco-schemes which farmers will need to take part in to draw down the funding.
The Minister also proposes to implement capping of direct payments at €66,000 by utilising the flexibility in EU regulations where payments between €60,000 and €100,000 can be reduced by 85pc, giving an effective cap of €66,000.
Minister McConalogue described the funding package as a real commitment to farm families.
"It will support our farmers in doing what they do best – producing top-class, world-famous food while helping them make a real impact in meeting our climate ambitions.
“Farm income and environmental sustainability is at the centre of everything I believe in and I know farmers will recognise the range of supports put in place," he said.
The announcement today also saw €1.5bn allocated to a new flagship agricultural environment scheme to replace previous schemes such as REPS and GLAS. A further €256m in funding has been allocated to organic farming, a sharp increase on previous programmes.
Green Party Minister for State Pippa Hackett said the funding would mean farmers can be supported as they increase their environmental ambition and farm in a way which protects biodiversity and climate as well as supporting their enterprises and their land.
However, the initial reaction to the announcements from Ireland's largest farm organisation, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has been highly critical.
IFA President Tim Cullinan said the message from the Government announcement is that it’s not interested in supporting 'active farming'.
“A cohort of our most productive farmers are going to be devastated by the CAP decisions at EU level. The Minister's own decisions today will do nothing to help these farmers,” he said.
He added that at present, only a third of Irish farmers are viable and said these announcements today will reduce the number of viable farmers.
“The total emphasis is on rewarding farmers for reducing production. The Greens are clearly running the show, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael being led by the nose,” he said.
“The Minister’s plan to allocate the maximum 25pc of every farmer’s Basic Payment to so-called ‘Eco-schemes’ is bizarre, as the Minister himself fought to secure flexibility on this at EU level.”