With increased “green ambition” central to the new EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) package, Irish farmers will increasingly receive payments based on achieving measurable environmental results, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has confirmed.
The CAP deal agreed this week means €10.77 billion is secured for more than 120,000 Irish farm families over the next seven years, while a range of new “eco-schemes” will also come on stream, he confirmed at a briefing on Wednesday.
There will be “a suite of options” for farmers to receive CAP supports that up to now came in the form of direct payments, Mr McConalogue said. A total of 25 per cent of payments to farmers under the new CAP package have been diverted into eco-schemes.
These schemes include improving animal health and welfare; enhancing biodiversity, sustainable management of natural resources and carbon mitigation, including reduced chemical fertiliser use and changes in crop production.
The redirection of agriculture under the package would be from a starting point of Ireland being a world leader in producing "safe, healthy food", but going on to become a world leader in "sustainable production of that food" and reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture, the Minister said.
Ag Climatise strategy
The Department of Agriculture’s Ag Climatise strategy had set out many of the measures required, the Minister noted, but in addition the sector would have to examine what more it can do “in line with the emerging science”. This would be backed by Government investment, he said.
An approach that included better management of water resources and enhancement of biodiversity had to be “central to what farmers do, including food production”, the Minister added.
“The CAP will continue to support our farmers to produce top-quality, safe and healthy food while also allowing us to increase our climate ambitions. Our farmers are true leaders and pioneers in this area and this deal allows Ireland to be a global leader in reducing carbon emissions, address biodiversity decline and improve water quality,” he said.
Critically, the State had secured “maximum flexibility to make key decisions nationally” when the council of EU ministers for agriculture met this week to get the deal across the line, the Minister noted.
The payments system in the package was complex and changes under it would impact on incomes for some farmers, he said. As some larger farmers were set to receive more and smaller-sized farms less, flexibility was required to ensure the system could be made fair, he underlined.
There would be a "learning period" for farmers before the eco-schemes came into operation, thereby reducing the risk of low uptake and funds being returned to the EU. A strategic CAP plan for the State had to be completed by the end of the year and submitted to Brussels. This would be preceded by extensive consultation with farmers, the Minister said.
Minister of State for Agriculture Martin Heydon said the CAP deal was historic in many ways, with a small increase in funding. He said the deal would ensure sustainability in the broadest sense for the environment, for food production and farm incomes – and supporting the rural economy.
While there were a lot of changes in it, it “reflects our climate ambitions” and provides certainty, he added.
Meanwhile, IFA president Tim Cullinan has reiterated the CAP deal "will potentially devastate the incomes of a cohort of Irish farmers".
While some flexibilities were worked into the detailed text on eco-schemes and redistribution may help to reduce the impact, “the reform will still be severe on drystock and tillage farmers who worked hard to build up strong per hectare entitlement values”, he said.
"Now that the deal has been agreed in Europe, the Government needs to step up to the plate to support productive farmers through national co-financing, the €1.5 billion commitment on carbon tax and the Brexit adjustment reserve," he added. "The Government must support productive beef, sheep and tillage farmers."