State plans €1.9bn farming sector boost
Funds, added to €2.2bn EU allocation, to aid recovery and encourage investment
Young farmers to receive 25% top-up on direct payments and cap to be imposed. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
A new environmental scheme, more funding for young farmers and a new grant scheme for artisan food producers are among the measures included in the Government’s draft rural development programme announced last night.
The programme, which involves Government spending of €1.9 billion in the seven years to 2020, will be finalised in the coming weeks before being submitted to the European Commission for approval.
The €1.9 billion will be added to €2.2 billion EU allocation already approved for rural development, providing a total purse of €4.1 billion. When EU funding of €8.5 billion for direct payments to farmers is included, the agriculture sector will receive more than €12.5 billion in Common Agricultural Policy and exchequer funding in the period to 2020.
Aid to recovery
Announcing the measures, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that while there were encouraging signs of growth in the economy, this recovery must be felt in all regions and the rural development programme was designed to aid this recovery.
He said the programme would encourage on-farm investment and would help to grow the food and drink industry. “So at a time of scarce resources, it represents the Government’s strong commitment to job creation and investment in our rural communities.”
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said this funding commitment was more significant than the money allocated to rural development in the previous seven years.
“We spent just over €3.9 billion on rural development over the last seven years and we’ll be spending slightly more than that over the next seven years,” said Mr Coveney. If funding for the Leader programme was included, spending would exceed €4 billion.
He also announced details of the Common Agricultural Policy’s new direct payments system and said payments would move towards a national average by 2020. He said young farmers would receive a 25 per cent top-up on direct payments, and higher grant aid for on-farm capital investments under the rural development programme.
He also announced a new ceiling for direct payments so no farmer will receive a single farm payment of more than €150,000 a year. The single farm payment scheme will be known as the basic payment scheme in the new programme.
The news was welcomed by farm organisations, although ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin noted that the Government allocation fell slightly short of the 50-50 Government-EU funding hoped for by farmers. The Government is providing 46 per cent of the rural development funds, while the EU is providing 54 per cent.
IFA president Eddie Downey said the plan would deliver strong support for vital farm schemes for the next seven years. These would underpin farm incomes, particularly in disadvantaged areas and in the low-income sectors of farming. He urged that the proposals on the rural development programme be progressed without delay so the schemes could be up and running as soon as possible.