Coalition unveils nearly €10bn agriculture plan via new Cap agenda

Package includes a 50% increase in ‘co-financing’ by Government over the period

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said the increased funding allocation was welcome but there was ‘very distinct bias against the commercial family farm’. File photograph: The Irish Times

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said the increased funding allocation was welcome but there was ‘very distinct bias against the commercial family farm’. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Supports for agriculture will total almost €10 billion with a 50 per cent increase in funding for “eco schemes” under a new Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) strategy for Ireland to run from 2023 to 2027, the Government announced on Wednesday.

The €9.83 billion package includes a 50 per cent increase in “co-financing” by the Government over the period. Under the revised Cap regime, 25 per cent of Cap “Pillar 1” direct payments to farmers are ring fenced for environmental measures. “Pillar 2” payments, which support rural development and are co-financed with the European Union, are to increase by €600 million compared to the 2016-2020 – totalling €3.86 billion.

This “will underpin the sustainable development of Ireland’s farming and food sector by . . . strengthening the socio-economic fabric of rural areas, and by contributing to the achievement of environmental and climate objectives”, according to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.

A new carbon-efficiency suckler programme is to receive €260 million and €256 million has been allocated to expand organic production. Farmers are to receive €1.5 billion of ring-fenced carbon tax revenues up to 2030, he said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said agriculture would be at the centre of efforts to address climate change, biodiversity loss and improve water quality. Increased co-financing was tangible support for farmers and their families, he said.

This would not only support food production but also support local economies while meeting the Republic’s climate ambitions. It would also ensure the State continues to have “a world-class food system”, said Mr Martin.

Mr McConalogue expected 50,000 farmers would participate in the eco schemes with 20,000 participants undertaking “landscape measures” in co-operation with other farmers and receiving a maximum payment of €10,000. The remaining 30,000 farmers would receive a maximum of €7,000 in a separate scheme.

He said he listened carefully to “stakeholder feedback” at consultation meetings countrywide. Consequently, there would be an effective cut off of €66,000 on payments and with no deduction of salaries – a reduction from €150,000 previously.

Asked about the forthcoming carbon budget and if farmers would have to achieve a higher target of 30 per cent emissions reductions, the Minister said the Climate Change Advisory Council had yet to issue its five-yearly budgets which would feed into a new climate action plan for the State and the setting of sectoral ceilings but “figures up to now were speculative”.

Ministers of State Pippa Hackett (Green Party) said the payments were generous and “good for farmers, for the land, for biodiversity and for climate”. The reality was agricultural expansion had not decoupled from rising emissions, she added, and it was accepted that farmers had to set up and deliver by applying a “measurable, deliverable mechanism to do this”.

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan said the strategy indicated the Government was not interested in supporting active farming. “A cohort of our most productive farmers are going to be devastated by the Cap decisions at EU level. The Minister’s own decisions today will do nothing to help these farmers,” he said.

“The total emphasis is on rewarding farmers for reducing production. The Greens are clearly running the show, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael being led by the nose,” added Mr Cullinan.

Eco schemes

Allocating the maximum 25 per cent of every farmer’s basic payment to so-called eco schemes was bizarre as the Minister had fought to secure flexibility on this at EU level, he said.

With only a third of Irish farmers considered viable, it would reduce the number of viable farmers, the IFA leader claimed. In that context, funding for suckler cows, ewes and the tillage sector was “totally inadequate”.

“For the Government to say they have increased co-funding for the Cap by 50 per cent is disingenuous as this includes the Government’s promised carbon tax allocation,” he said. “The irony is carbon-tax income is generated by active farmers, who have no alternative fuel source. Yet, they are the ones being nailed by these reforms.”

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association leader Pat McCormack said the increased funding allocation was welcome but there was “very distinct bias against the commercial family farm” – the critical sector with agriculture in economic, social, demographic and environmental terms.

This was an enormous mistake that could not be rectified by increase increased funding, he added. “A Cap strategic plan that does not recognise the reality of commercial family farming and pretends that the whole sector can be turned in a specific direction without recognising that element just cannot work.”