The EU continues to ask "more and more" of Irish farmers on environmental reform but without giving them any increase in funding, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) said it is now "extremely concerned" about how proposed eco-schemes at the heart of protracted EU negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) will affect its members.
It has asked the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to ensure that the least possible amount of money is deducted from Pillar One funding, that covering direct farm payments.
European negotiations broke up without agreement late last month. With talks now dragging on for three years, the main point of impasse is how to reconcile subsidies generally with climate goals designed to protect biodiversity and slash emissions.
Divisions remain between the European Parliament and European Council, while individual governments seek to reduce the percentage of subsidies earmarked for so-called eco-schemes from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.
In its submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture on Wednesday, the IFA said the Minister “must ensure that the minimum possible deduction is made from Pillar 1 for these schemes”.
It also urged him to back an EU Council proposal to allow Member States with a high level of environmental schemes under Pillar 2 – that financing rural development – to reduce the percentage allocated under Pillar 1.
"Europe continues to ask more and more of farmers from an environmental perspective but with no associated increase in funding," the IFA said, pointing out that Irish farmers have one third of land farmed under Agri-Environmental Climate Measures compared with an average of 13.4 per cent across the EU.
“More acknowledgement should be given of the level of actions undertaken by Irish farmers to date,” it said.
‘Unlikely to participate’
The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) said the proposed eco-funding model would force farmers to adopt certain terms and conditions in order to avoid a potential pay cut.
“This is another example of taking funding designated as income support for farmers and effectively imposing compulsory requirements on farmers to maintain their existing level of payment,” it said.
Echoing the IFA position, it has argued for an “absolute minimum” percentage point in the Cap deal as well as insisting the terms of eco-schemes must be “simple to meet”.
“If this does not happen, farmers are unlikely to participate,” it warned in its submission to the committee.
“As the Eco- Scheme is an annual scheme, associated actions must achieve an environmental dividend within the year of participation and it will be extremely difficult for farmers to show results within this timeframe if stipulations or result based actions are deemed too onerous.”
Referring to the eco-scheme “battle” at European level, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSFA) submitted that it amounted to “deadly combat over whether it is 20 per cent or 30 per cent of the Pillar 1 budget whereas in fact, nobody is asking how come we lost the old REPS scheme which put real money into farmers’ pockets”, is said of a scheme that promoted environmentally conscious farming practices.
Recently, the EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said there was hope a Cap agreement could be reached before the end of June.