Irish farm lobby frets over €10bn in subsidies as EU eyes Cap reform

Environmental measures on terms proposed must be kept to minimum, says IFA leader

Irish Farmers’ Association  president Tim Cullinan said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ in the Cap reform talks. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Irish Farmers’ Association president Tim Cullinan said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ in the Cap reform talks. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

European Union talks to reform the Common Agriculture Policy (Cap) and encourage eco-friendly farming could hit Irish farm incomes, according to Irish Farmers’ Association president Tim Cullinan.

“If the EU were serious about more environmental ambition, they should put up more funding instead of taking 20 to 30 per cent of every farmer’s existing basic payment,” he said.

Mr Cullinan was speaking after meeting EU Council president Maria do Céu Antunes on Wednesday, prior to negotiations beginning among the bloc’s agriculture ministers.

More than €10 billion in subsidies to Irish farmers is at stake covering the 2023 to 2027 period as ministers attempt to nail down changes to the Cap.

There is “no option” but to keep “ these so-called eco schemes to a minimum as it is clear that they will cost farmers money and compound” the impact on farmers receiving higher Cap payments, Mr Cullinan said.

Ireland should be given credit for already-introduced measures supporting rural development and environmentally friendly actions when it comes to finalising subsidies, he said. In addition, there is a need to “ensure conditions for eligibility are practical and do not impact on commercial agriculture, including on peatlands”, the IFA president added.

“European farmers have to comply with numerous conditions to receive their payments and these are being ratcheted up again as part of this reform. Farmers are being asked to do more and more for less money,” he said.

The outcome of the talks will affect the viability of thousands of farmers, he said. At present just one-third of Irish farmers are classed as viable, but the proposed reforms would reduce that number, he predicted.

This week’s talks are the first big test for Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, he said.

“It’s vital he stands up for Irish farmers and is prepared to hold out for a better deal. Portugal’s six-month presidency of the EU has another month to run. No deal is better than a bad deal,” Mr Cullinan insisted.

Mr McConalogue denied farm incomes would be cut by 30 per cent, but he accepted that changes to so-called convergence rules could hit some. “Some farmers’ incomes go up and some go down,” he said.

Call for ‘realism’

Key to the new Cap plan is the idea of linking payments to increased environmental ambitions, but he said he will seek a way to ensure convergence on payments does not overly affect farm incomes.

Calling for a “sense of realism”, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president, Pat McCormack, said farmers are concerned the debate is “being hijacked by vested interests, including within Government”. Some people, he said, are intent on turning the next Cap into an unworkable environmental policy. The remark appears to be a reference to the Green Party.

Thousands of farm families in the State will suffer substantial cuts to their direct payments and incomes while having to meet “new and unsurpassed levels of inspection and regulation”, he said.

“Based on what we’re hearing . . . we’re headed towards less payments for much more regulation and absolutely nothing for meaningful sustainability,” he added.

The Minister must bring a sense of realism that delivers a Cap for sustainable farming, said Mr McCormack as “current proposals are not just neutral, but worse”.

The primary purpose of the Cap is “to deliver safe and sustainable food” for European consumers while ensuring decent incomes for farmers, he pointed out.