Farmers caution against cuts to sector


FARMERS ARE facing a 30 per cent drop in incomes this year as a result of the bad weather and rising costs, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has warned.

The expected drop will bring income back to 2010 levels after an exceptionally good year last year.

The IFA has begun lobbying politicians in advance of the budget and has called for no further cuts in State funding to the sector.

IFA president John Bryan said payments from the State to farmers had been the subject of “savage cuts” in recent years and any further cuts would be a false economy as it would undermine the ability of farmers to produce goods for export.

The IFA estimates that the State provides €310 million in direct payments, which underpins a €24 billion industry of which €9 billion is exported.

He said funding for State schemes was down 40 per cent since the start of the recession and 17 per cent alone last year, and the sector had now reached a “tipping point”.

In addition, the budget of the Department of Agriculture was down 6 per cent last year, almost twice as much as other departments.

The money comes through the Rural Environment Protection Scheme, the suckler cow scheme, the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme, forestry measures and the Targeted Agricultural Measures. In its pre-budget submission the IFA calls for no further cuts to farm schemes, arguing that any further cuts would “clearly be discriminatory” given the difficulties in the farming sector this year.

Mr Bryan said farm incomes were likely to fall 25-30 per cent, shaving about €7,000 off the average farm income.

In 2011 the average farm income was €24,461 and it could fall to €17,000-€18,000 this year.

He said the price of fertiliser was up more than 30 per cent, diesel prices had doubled in the past three years, and feed was also up 30 per cent.

The bad weather has affected milk yields and weight gain among cattle, he said, and farmers have had to buy more meal, which has affected profit margins.

The weather was so bad in July that farmers were using as much meal as they use during December, when cattle are in for the winter.

Winter wheat and barley yields are down 30 per cent, and maize yields and quality will also be down, Mr Bryan said.

The pork and chicken sector is also “on the edge” as a result of a global rise in the price of meal of 30 per cent because of drought in many areas.

Mr Byran added: “We are saying that a small amount of exchequer funds underpins a huge sector. Agriculture has taken disproportionate cuts but it is one of the sectors that continues to retain jobs. It has now reached a tipping point.”