‘Forgotten farmers’ need help, Oireachtas committee hears

Government urged to support ‘old young farmers’ who cannot avail of new measures

Cattle on a Midlands farm. The Government has been urged to help  farmers aged under 40 who don’t qualify for supports for young farmers  after their plight was highlighted at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Cattle on a Midlands farm. The Government has been urged to help farmers aged under 40 who don’t qualify for supports for young farmers after their plight was highlighted at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

The Government has been urged to help so-called “forgotten farmers” after their plight was highlighted at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture.

Also known as the “old young farmers”, this group of more than 3,000 farmers are aged under 40 but cannot avail of new measures aimed at young farmers, because they have been farming for more than five years.

As they are still relatively new to farming, they have not built up their entitlements, so their basic farm payment is much lower than that of established farmers.

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president Patrick Kent said it was “profoundly unfair” that this group of farmers was being left behind.

He urged Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and his department to face up to the issue.

‘Fallen through cracks’

Farmer Kenneth O’Brien (33) told the committee he was “a forgotten farmer”, as he had started farming in 2001 and had “fallen through the cracks” when it came to receiving supports.

He said he believed that no more than 3,800 farmers were in this situation, so it would not be a major problem to rectify.

Mr O’Brien said that when he tried to lease land he had to compete with new entrants who were receiving topped-up payments and established farmers who had built up their entitlements over many years.

“It’s a problem through rural Ireland, ” he said.

“We can’t get it from the bank. We feel like we are being discriminated [against] from every side, through no fault of our own.”

Mr O’Brien said the first question he was asked when he tried to get a bank loan was about the size of his single farm payment.

“And when they did see that it was €780, they basically laughed and said they could no nothing.”

CAP reforms

Macra na Feirme president Seán Finan told the committee that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms had introduced “very positive and important incentives for young farmers” but that this group of “old young farmers” had been particularly disadvantaged by the reforms.

“Many of these old young farmers have either low levels [of support] or no basic payment under the CAP for a variety of reasons related to the historical model upon which the Single Farm Payment was based,” he said.

“The result is they lack the support of the CAP system to help them manage issues such as income volatility and facilitate investment in their farms’ businesses.”

Under the EU policy, these farmers will be brought within 60 per cent of the national average basic payment by 2019, but Mr Finan said that they needed the supports now.

“The sympathies towards these young farmers need to be converted into action,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív said there was “a very clear cut case” to help these farmers, as the conditions imposed on them were unnecessarily restrictive.

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said it was a sad day when “beef barons” were getting CAP payments of close to €500,000 while these farmers were fighting for support.