State must defend €1.6bn share in Cap funds at EU budget talks
Farmers are aware of the tough budgetary decisions that have to be made and that expenditure has to be reduced in all areas. However, since 2008, expenditure in the agriculture budget has been cut by more than 40 per cent, and is now at €970 million, or 2 per cent of total government expenditure.
This compares with an average cut of 10 per cent across all government departments. It is low-income farmers, who are most dependent on farm schemes, who have been most affected by the disproportionate cuts that have been imposed.
Funding for farm schemes must be maintained in budget 2013. Any further reductions would clearly be discriminatory and have a directly negative impact on income and production. Recent years have shown a renewed interest by young people in a career in farming. To build on this, the taxation measures that reward enterprise, support farm transfer, investment, land mobility and consolidation must be retained and progressed.
Overall, expenditure and taxation decisions taken in budget 2013 must support economic growth and protect the lowest income sectors.
There is another important reason farmers are in Dublin tomorrow. Retailers continue to take an excessive margin, at the expense of primary producers. Some of our sectors are facing much higher costs this winter, and yet the retailers are refusing to pass back a price that reflects this. Farmers need to see a real commitment from the multiples to the producers they claim to value. Whether they like it or not, retailers have a responsibility to the people who put quality produce on their shelves every day of the year. They will have to shoulder some of the increased costs, and can afford to do so.
We are still waiting for regulation of the retail sector. At national and European level, we need a statutory code of practice, backed up by an independent ombudsman. Only then will we see a level of transparency and fair play in the food chain.
The coming months will be crucial. Ireland produces enough food for 35 million people and can sustainably increase production to cater for 50 million. With the right policies, farming and food can be at the heart of the recovery, particularly across rural Ireland.
John Bryan is president of the Irish Farmers’ Association