IFA stance will not benefit most farmers
Farmers are objecting to a progressive change in single farm payments that would make a majority better off, writes FINTAN O'TOOLE
IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that the three most boring things in the world are pensions, the European Union in general and the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) in particular.
Ask any random Dubliner stuck in traffic today because of the Irish Farmers’ Association demonstration what, exactly, the farmers are protesting about. The answers: (a) don’t know and don’t care – 90 per cent of respondents; (b) the weather – 9 per cent and (c) cuts to EU subsidies – 1 per cent. Perhaps this ignorance is just as well. It might blow people’s minds if they knew the IFA is protesting against something that would make a majority of farmers better off.
Farmers get an annual cheque in the post – the “single farm payment” (SFP) – which brings in about €1.2 billion a year. The European Commission is proposing some changes to the way this money is divvied up. The IFA’s day of action is primarily a protest against these proposals. Most non-farmers, if they pay any attention to the demo at all, will assume that what has the IFA up in arms is a cut to the €1.2 billion.
But that assumption would be entirely wrong.
First, there is likely to be only a very minor cut in Ireland’s overall receipts from the Cap: a loss of about 1.4 per cent which is, in the circumstances of an enlarged EU, a very good result. So the cheques will keep on coming. What’s at issue, though, is to whom they will be coming. The commission wants to change the basis on which entitlement to the subsidies is decided. The €1.2 billion cake will be sliced up somewhat differently; some farmers will gain and some will lose. But the ones who will lose happen to be the ones with the loudest voices in the IFA and the Department of Agriculture.
The basis on which the payment is allocated is completely bonkers. How much money a farmer receives is determined by how much stock he or she had between 1999 and 2001. This does two things: It locks in historic privilege – if you had a vast ranch in 2001, you’re still getting vast subsidies now; and it skews the entire system towards the best-off farmers – broadly, the more money you have, the more the EU will give you.
Who benefits from this system? The Department of Agriculture has always insisted on keeping the names private, but in 2008, the information commissioner forced the release of the names. At that time, 37 per cent of SFPs were going to the top 10 per cent of farmers. The two biggest earners were Larry Goodman’s Irish Agricultural Development, which received €508,390 in subsidies, and Kepak Farm, which received €346,118. The next eight biggest farm businesses each received subsidies of between €305,000 and €212,000.