IFA President Joe Healy, has said that it is vital that the full allocation of funding to the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 is used, and that any saving arising from underspends in some schemes must be put into existing schemes or used to support new schemes.
The IFA President was commenting on IFA analysis which predicts an underspend of €106m in the total Rural Development Programme (RDP) allocation by the completion of the programme in 2020. He said, from the analysis of spending to date and projected spending between now and the end of the Programme, it is clear that while some schemes will spend most of their allocation, there will inevitably be underspends in other schemes.
“While there have been well publicised annual underspends in the Rural Development Programme, the Minister has always said that this will be made up by increased spending in the later years of the programme. However, our analysis shows that as we are into the second half of the programme that this will not happen and there is a likelihood that there will be a significant underspend,” he said.
“The Minister has always been adamant that all the funding allocated for 7 year programme would be spent over the full programme. He must deliver on this promise and the only way to do so is to reallocate some of the funding to ensure it will be spent in full.
“With the Government looking at a financial surplus of over €3bn heading into the next Budget, the funding for schemes should be increased in 2019,” Joe Healy said.
The IFA President said the Minister should introduce additional payments for suckler cows in line with the IFA campaign for a payment of €200 per suckler cow, he should increase ANC funding, and widen TAMS to include additional items.
“The Suckler cow sector badly needs a boost to protect and develop what is a vital national asset. Farmers need €200 per Suckler cow. Following an IFA campaign, ANC payments were increase by €25m this year but that still leaves farmers in ANC areas short of where the payments rates were before the cuts during the economic downturn.
“There is no excuse for the Minister not to act and it would be indefensible to allow funding to go unspent when we have a full blown income crisis at farm level” he said.
Mr Healy added: “Rural Development measures are vital to farmers as they provide key income supports such as ANC, BDGP and Sheep Welfare payments; they reward farmers who provide public goods through schemes like GLAS, and give vital investment support for farmers to modernise and become more competitive through TAMS.
The current RDP programme is worth in excess of €4bn, between a combination of over €2bn from EU money and the remainder from national funds.
Commenting on the IFA analysis, National Rural Development Chairperson, Joe Brady said that annual underspends that have become the norm in recent years, must not be repeated going forward. He insisted that payments to all schemes must be made on time as delays are causing huge cash flow difficulties on farms.
IFA will be insisting that the next Rural Development Programme post-2020 is well funded. The Association wants the annual ANC Budget to increase to €300m; the maximum payment under GLAS to be doubled to €10,000 with higher payments for farmers who have designated land; a wide-ranging farm investment scheme; and, a retirement scheme for farmers who pass the farm to the next generation.
Mr Brady also pointed out that the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed should ensure that farmers retain as much of the RDP funding as possible, as currently there is significant leakage to facilitators, planners and other agencies in the application process for some schemes.