Brexit is the most significant challenge ever faced by Irish agriculture and state aid rules ought to be lifted to provide the agrifood sector with a comprehensive package of measures to deal with it in Budget 2020, farmers have said.
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), meeting with TDs and Senators in Dublin on Wednesday as part of its pre-budget lobby day, said measures were urgently needed to deal with the “immediate threat” of Brexit and other matters.
"This budget will be Brexit orientated," said IFA president Joe Healy.
“The reason we think agriculture should be prioritised is because there is no sector as badly affected by Brexit. Even before Brexit has been finalised, we have had huge losses.”
The IFA called for direct support for farmers to include structural and adjustment funding. “This will include the setting aside of the state aid limits,” it said.
State aid refers to forms of public assistance, using taxpayer-funded resources, given on a discretionary basis with the potential to distort competition and affect trade between member states of the European Union.
Mr Healy said the beef sector alone has lost €200 million in sales in the year to September compared with the same period the year before, while beef farmers have lost €100 million since May.
“We send 40 per cent of our agrifood products to the UK every year,” he said. “Last year it actually increased by 2 per cent compared with 2017. No one has been suffering more than farmers over the last year. Uncertainty is the enemy of any business.”
Among the other challenges facing the industry is the Mercosur beef deal that will allow four South American countries to export up to 100,000 tonnes of beef to the EU annually.
Mr Healy described it as “an incredible own goal” by the EU, “double standards” when it comes to food production, and “absolutely the height of hypocrisy” when it comes to climate change.
“Europe has done a deal with four countries in South America, one of which is burning down rainforest the size of a football pitch every minute – not every day or every hour – every minute.”
IFA farm business chairman Martin Stapleton said: “There is a significant need for taxation supports, in particular through investment in emissions efficient equipment and the removal of discrimination in our tax system for the self-employed.
“Earlier this year the Government published the climate action plan. Contained within it were ambitious targets for the agricultural sector. Farmers are already engaged in significant climate mitigation actions, and we stand ready to do more.”
The IFA is also calling for a €38 million increase in funding for suckler cow farmers in addition to the existing BDGP and BEEP schemes bringing total funding to €100 million. It also wants increased ANC funding of €50 million.
Furthermore, it called for the removal of the “discrimination in the tax system” for the self-employed, including the earned income tax credit and USC surcharge.
Elsewhere, the contributory pension calculation “must be in line” with the national pensions’ framework and those on farm assist ought to be credited with PRSI contributions.
On green initiatives, it called for the prioritisation of renewable energy and micro or community-based renewables projects, in terms of planning and grid access to provide a potential additional income source.