Farmers quick off the mark with pre-Budget lobbying
Key demands include improving land mobility and protecting farm schemes
Talking about the Budget at the height of summer seems a bit premature until you remember that the Budget has been brought forward from December to October this year. The new date complies with an EU-wide process of budgetary surveillance but, happily for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, it will also rob headline writers of the opportunity to describe him as bad Santa, or the Grinch who stole Christmas.
The farm groups are always quick off the mark when it comes to lobbying and ICMSA hit the blocks early this year, lodging its pre-Budget submission with Mr Noonan in June. IFA publicised its package of requests last week and Macra na Feirme and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) are putting the finishing touches to their submissions.
They will all be hoping for a better Budget than last year when more than 100 farmers protested outside the Department of Agriculture over what they called “savage cuts” to the sector. That Budget was characterised by the expected shutdown of the suckler cow welfare scheme and cuts to the disadvantaged areas scheme, the sheep grassland scheme and Farm Assist, an income support scheme.
List of demands
Farm groups caution against any further cuts to schemes, particularly in the wake of the difficult winter and the ensuing fodder crisis. IFA says farm schemes have been disproportionately targeted for reductions in recent budgets. It notes that the Department of Agriculture had its budget cut by 13 per cent since 2011 compared with an average five per cent cut for all Government departments. Farm schemes bore the brunt of those cuts, with spending back by 18 per cent over that period, according to IFA president John Bryan.
ICSA’s general secretary Eddie Punch says farmers have to shout stop when it comes to the trend of cutting the disadvantaged areas scheme. “Budgetary constraints have meant that farms in excess of 22 hectares did not qualify for the AEOS agri-environment scheme which really calls into question whether the Government is serious about enhancing the environment,” he says.
Also high on the list of demands are measures to encourage the transfer of land from non-productive to productive farmers. There are more farmers over the age of 80 than under 35 in this State and access to land is still a major barrier for young farmers, according to Macra na Feirme.
It will be proposing several measures to encourage the transfer of land, including the retention of 90 per cent agriculture relief and no reduction in the thresholds for capital acquisition tax and capital gains tax.