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Farming

Western farmers need a 'real reform' of CAP

With final agreement of an overall EU budget close, attention will now focus on getting agreement on the distribution of funds in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) 2014-2020.

As I write, it looks like the Pillar II payments, which covers the Disadvantage Area Scheme (DAS), agri-environmental schemes such as AEOS, as well as Farm Improvement Schemes and Leader funding, will suffer a far more drastic cut of 11pc than the 3.3pc cut proposed for Pillar I payments, which include the Single Farm Payment (SFP).

If this happens, it will have devastating consequences for Co Leitrim and, indeed, all counties along the western seaboard. For this reason, it makes getting a better and fairer deal on the SFP in Pillar 1 not just desirable, but essential.

This round of CAP reform gives us the opportunity to get a fairer deal as well as targeting specific areas. The 'young farmer' proposals in Pillar II and the 2pc top-up in Pillar I are very good proposals, which we are delighted to see that everyone has welcomed.

Unfortunately, this seems to be as far as the main players want any reform to go.

Both the IFA, at national level, and Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, are happy to leave the current payment system in place, with minimum redistribution of payments.

outdateD

These payments were established on farming activity during the reference years of 2000, 2001 and 2002 and, in many cases, do not reflect the current situation on the ground.

We believe this system of payment is outdated and a more radical approach is required.

At present, the average SFP in Leitrim is €169/ha (€67.60/ ac), which is the second lowest in the country, behind Donegal at €167/ha. At numerous meetings held across the country, various alternative proposals are being put forward.

The IFA want to reward the 'active farmer.' This is a noble idea but begs the question: what is an active farmer?

A farmer in Leitrim with 100ac of very marginal land can get up at sunrise and work the land until dusk but, unfortunately, that won't turn it into good land and so the most it will feed is 25-30 cows.

Yet another farmer with 100ac of prime agricultural land can feed 50-60 cows without the same effort.

Farmers on good land have no problem controlling rushes, they don't have to drain the wettest parts of the farm and are not locked in a constant battle with the weather to get slurry out and get silage saved.

They don't even have to save as much fodder than farmers on marginal land because their cattle are housed for a much shorter period. Nor have they to dose their cattle and sheep five or six times per year.

Now my question is, which of these farmers is the most active?

I know which one has the most work to do and which one incurs the highest costs. But, unfortunately, this is also the one with the smaller SFP. This farmer is essentially being penalised for having bad land.

Several European countries are coming up with alternative solutions to re-distribute the SFP but the proposal from the French could be the real game-changer. What this proposal involves is the front-loading of payments, an idea that could work well here in Ireland.

The idea is that the first 20ha (50ac) would get a bigger payment, say €400/ha, while the next 20ha would get a lower payment of €250/ha and so on.

This proposal could also safeguard family farms, which was one of the main things the IFA were protesting about last October. Of course, protecting family farms would also put more money into the local economy, help create employment and stimulate rural re-generation.

Unfortunately, this proposal is already meeting fierce resistance because in order to re-distribute money like this, an upper limit of €50,000 per farmer would have to be put on the payments.

This suggestion has not been well received by Minister Coveney or IFA president John Bryan, which is surprising as it only affects 2,102 out of a total of nearly 130,000 farmers.

You would imagine that the IFA and the Government would put the best interests of the vast majority (98.4pc) of farmers ahead of such a small minority (1.6pc) of farmers. You have to wonder what are their reasons for not doing so?

When you consider the DAS payment has twice been cut from a modest €4,456 to €3,000 since 2008, without any consultation, you would think capping the SFP at a massive €50,000 would not even require thinking about.

empathise

Last autumn, Minister Coveney attended a number of information meetings around the country.

For anyone in attendance, it was very obvious that the minister saw his brief as that of protecting the larger farmers with higher payments and, clearly, he could not empathise with smaller farmers in marginal parts of Ireland.

Yet surely, at this stage in the negotiations, he or some of his advisors have realised that we need a proper re-distribution – real reform – from the next round of the CAP.

This is no time for token gestures. Small farmers with very low SFPs have been barely holding on, relying on Pillar 2 payments to plug the holes in their farm income.

With a lot of these schemes already gone and further cuts to the remaining payments looking inevitable, it's time the minister and all the farming organisations started to represent all farmers and not just the bigger ones.

It's a sad day when EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos wants to do more to protect the family farm than our Government and the farming organisations who we pay membership fees to represent us.

Ray Gilmartin,

Chairperson

Leitrim Macra Na Feirme

Irish Independent