With final agreement of an overall EU Budget close attention will now focus on getting agreement on the distribution of funds in the CAP running 2014-2020. As I write it looks like the Pillar 2 payments which covers Disadvantage Area Payments (DAS), Agri-Envirommental Schemes such as REPS and its successor AEOS as well as Farm Improvement Schemes and Leader funding will see a far more drastic cut of 11% than the 3.3% cut proposed for Pillar 1 payments which covers the Single Farm Payment(SFP).
If this happens it will have devastating consequences for Co Leitrim and indeed all counties along the Western seaboard and for this reason it makes getting a better and fairer deal on the SFP in Pillar 1 not just desirable but essential.
The new CAP reform gives us the opportunity to get a fairer deal as well as targeting specific areas. The Young Farmer proposals with regard to a start-up grant for Young Farmers in Pillar 2 and the 2% top-up in Pillar 1 are very good, unfortunately this seems to be as far as the main players want any reform to go. Both the IFA at national level and the Minister of Agriculture are happy to leave the current payment system in place with minimum redistribution of payments. 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 We believe this system of payment is outdated and a more radical approach is required going forward.
At present the average SFP in Co Leitrim is €169/hectare (€67.60/acre), the second lowest in the country behind Donegal. The IFA want to reward the “Active Farmer” which is a noble idea but what is an active farmer? A farmer in Leitrim with 100 acres of very marginal land can get up at sunrise and work the land until dusk but the most it will feed is 25-30 cows. Yet another farmer with 100 acres of prime agricultural land can feed 50 -60 cows without the same effort. My question is, which of these farmers is the most active? I know which one has the most work to do and which one has 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 ways to re-distribute the SFP but the proposal from the French could be the real game-changer. They propose front loading payments, something which could work well here. The idea being that the first 20 hectares (50 acres) would get a bigger payment, say €400/ha, the next 20 would get €250/ha and so on. This proposal could also safe-guard family farms helping put money into the local economy, creating employment and stimulating rural re-generation.
Unfortunately these proposals are 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 very surprising as it only effects 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 (98.4%) of farmers ahead of such a small minority (1.6%) 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.
Small farmers with very low SFP are being barely holding on, relying on Pillar 2 payments to plug the holes in their farm income. With a lot of these Schemes gone and further cuts to the remaining payments looking inevitable its 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 Commissioner Ciolos wants to do more to protect the family farm than our own Government and the farming organisations who we pay membership fees to represent us.