Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Suckler funding plan hangs in the balance

Furious farmer reaction to proposed clawback of 1-1.5pc of SFP

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Plans by the Department of Agriculture to fund the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme (SCWS) through a new levy on all Single Farm Payments (SFP) hung in the balance today following a furious reaction from farm organisations.

The proposal was described as "devious" and "shameless" by the ICMSA, with the organisation's president, Jackie Cahill, accusing the Department of attempting to set "farmer against farmer".

The ICSA branded the move "daylight robbery" and called on the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, to "front up and defend agriculture at the Cabinet table".

Meanwhile, IFA president John Bryan said any changes to the SFP should only be considered as part of the overall CAP reform negotiations.

Mr Bryan said he was strongly opposed to any tampering with the SFP in the context of decisions for the upcoming Budget.

The application to hold back the SFP funds was made to the Commission under Article 68, which allows EU member states to withhold up to 10pc of payments to finance a range of schemes at national level.

The option being considered by the Department would see 1-1.5pc of all SFP monies being retained to fund the SCWS. Such a move would cost a farmer with a SFP of €10,000 between €100 and €150.

This would provide the Department with €12-18m to part-fund the SCWS, which will cost around €33m this year.

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With up to €200m in cuts required from the Department's total spend this year, some industry commentators said the proposals were a genuine attempt to save the suckler scheme.

A Department official said the Commission had not yet concluded its examination of the application and no decision has been taken on the matter.

However, the proposal has provoked an angry response from farmer bodies, particularly the ICMSA and ICSA.

"ICMSA is totally opposed to any cut in the SFP in order to co-fund any part of this scheme," Mr Cahill said. "Any attempt by the Government to do this will be seen for what it is, a cynical move to set farmer against farmer."

He claimed the proposals were also an attempt to prepare the ground for some form of coupled payment for the suckler herd to be introduced following CAP reform in 2014.

Mr Cahill said such a move would only benefit the meat factories.

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said it was clear that the Government was trying to renege on its commitment to fund the SCWS.

"This latest plan is a con job and farmers won't fall for it," Mr Gilmartin said. "Support for suckler farmers is vital but we don't want to see it at the expense of beef or sheep farmers.

"The minister needs to front up and defend agriculture at the Cabinet table. You don't hear the Minister for Public Sector Reform talking about any further cuts to public sector pay, so why should the Minister for Agriculture cave in on further cuts to farmers?"

The SCWS was introduced in 2008 for a five-year period. The budget is 100pc exchequer-funded. In 2009, the rate per cow was cut from €80 to €40.

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