Only active farmers merit payment, says Ó Cuív
Éamon Ó Cuív: single-farm payment should be linked to a minimum stocking rate
Farmers should not receive direct payments from the European Union unless they are actively farming, Fianna Fáil’s agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív has told a conference on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
The conference on Saturday was organised by Fianna Fáil to get farmers’ views on how the single farm payment should be distributed in the next round of EU funding. The European Commission wants to change the way the payments are made – from a model based on past production to one based on payment per hectare.
Mr Ó Cuív said the payment should be linked to a minimum stocking rate, so that farmers would not receive it unless they had a certain number of animals on the land.
“I’m not standing here defending farmers who are just holding land, whether they are getting a big payment or a small payment, and running a few bullocks on it and not using the land for the benefit of the people of Ireland,” he said.
This was echoed by Irish Farmers Association rural development secretary Gerry Gunning, who said there was a major flaw in the commission’s plans as they would give inactive farmers “a windfall” unless other criteria were taken into account.
He said the number of people working on a farm should also count, together with the number of animals.
Mr Ó Cuív said a disproportionate amount of money was going to a small number of farmers at the top. Two per cent of farmers got 12 per cent of the payments while 70 per cent got less than ¤10,000. “I have said a long time ago that I believe there should be a cap on the payments of ¤50,000.”
He said the commission’s plans would change the distribution “but it would mean that a different set of people could wind up with inordinately high payments when there is only a fixed amount of money”.
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president John Comer rejected suggestions that every farmer should receive a minimum payment, saying the funding wasn’t there.
“If you give everyone a minimum payment per hectare, you’ll have people living above in Dublin and they’ll be drawing payments down the country because all they’ll have to do is have a payment in 2014.”
“Doesn’t make sense”
The current situation could no longer be justified, said Prof Alan Matthews, professor emeritus of European agricultural policy at Trinity College. However, he added, the commission’s plans for a flat rate of payment per hectare regardless of the land quality “doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense either”.
Prof Matthews said there were concerns that productive farmers would produce less if payments were cut. “We can certainly create an argument in theory . . . but I’m not sure that anyone has actually sat down and made the calculations.”
Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association president Gabriel Gilmartin said many farmers were on very low payments through no fault of their own.
“We are convinced that there must be a way to target the increase per hectare,” Mr Gilmartin added, “rather than allocating it to every hectare in Ireland.”