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Common Agricultural Policy Reform: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 796 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney]  A second major issue for member states is the Commission's proposal on greening the CAP. There is broad support for the Commission's approach of adopting three basic greening criteria. However, member states have a range of views on how the proposal should be implemented. We in Ireland have our own particular issues that need to be resolved. These include our desire to make the greening payment a percentage of a farmer's overall payment rather than a flat rate and the need to adjust the three criteria to suit Irish farming conditions. We have tabled proposals aimed at dealing with all of the concerns expressed and the compromise proposals have received support from member states. A number of issues which remain outstanding mainly arise from the concerns expressed by individual member states about some of the detailed aspects. I hope these can be sorted out at next week's Council with a view to obtaining a full Council position.

In essence, our proposals on greening retain the three greening criteria proposed by the Commission, namely, crop diversification, maintenance of permanent grassland and establishment of ecological focus areas. However, we have built additional flexibility into the proposals in a number of ways. For example, we are proposing that member states may elect to apply the obligation to maintain permanent grassland at regional or national level. This makes perfect sense in a member state such as Ireland which is dominated by grassland. We are proposing progressive implementation of the crop diversification requirements in order that small holdings under 10 ha would not be bound by these requirements and that a two crop obligation would apply to farms between 10 and 30 ha, with three crops required above that level. We are also proposing a graduated approach to ecological focus areas, starting with a 3% requirement in 2015 that would gradually be increased to 5% in 2016 and, depending on the outcome of a review, 7% in 2017 and beyond. We are also proposing to increase the scope of what is deemed to constitute an ecological focus area to ensure the land would be productive as long as it had a positive value from an ecological point of view such as carbon fixing in the soil. In addition, we are proposing that farmers might be excused from applying the three greening criteria provided they undertook certain agri-environmental measures deemed to be equivalent. Our purpose in providing this additional flexibility is to ensure greening the CAP would provide added value in terms of benefits to the environment, while at the same time was workable and practical for farmers and administrators alike. Where good ideas have emerged in the European Parliament, we have taken them on board in our proposals to the Council.

A number of other complex, difficult and potentially divisive issues are included in the compromise proposals and will be put to Ministers next Monday and Tuesday. These concern matters such as supply management measures in the sugar and wine sectors; the future of market support measures; the status of producer organisations; the designation of less favoured areas which are now to be known as areas of natural constraint; the future of the single area payment scheme operated in new member states; and the extent to which coupled payments will be allowed in the reformed CAP. I aim to reach agreement on all these issues in the Council of Ministers in order that we can proceed to the next phase of negotiations with the Commission and the Parliament. I am focused on achieving an agreement during the Irish Presidency that will be of long-term benefit to Irish and European agriculture. From my point of view, this exercise is about protecting family farms, supporting productive agriculture and the ambition of the Food Harvest 2020 plan, fair distribution of direct payments for all farmers, maintaining rural development funds to support vulnerable sectors, while also incentivising innovation and competitiveness, and the sustainable, safe and traceable production of increasing volumes food. This CAP reform needs to protect agriculture and the agrifood industry as the most important contributors the economy and reaffirm their status as the heartbeat of rural Ireland.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I thank the Minister for coming to the House in advance of next week's Council of Ministers. We are engaged in a slow process and the options will narrow until agreement is reached at European level. Even after we reach agreement, however, we will still have to make a number of national choices. We must retain our focus on what we want to achieve in the end game. It is vital that we give a higher priority than is given in popular discourse to price stability and guaranteeing primary producers will receive a fair share of the price paid by consumers. If farming is not profitable even on the best of land, there is no inducement to produce more. The Food Harvest 2020 programme which we prepared in government should underlie our actions. The programme aimed to expand Irish agriculture to produce the maximum possible product from the land.

  I have heard statements in this debate which would be considered ridiculous in any other forum. It is suggested that somehow there is an incentive to produce if someone has a fixed payment, notwithstanding the fact that the more he or she produces, the less money he or she will make. In other words, having taken the fixed income, the enterprises loses money when it produces more. To expect anybody or any country to expand production dramatically in such a situation is Alice in Wonderland talk. We have to fight to get recognition from the European Union that if farming is not profitable now that it has been decoupled, there is no incentive to produce more. If we accept that principle, a second point becomes obvious. The better the land and the more efficient the farmer, the better his or her capacity to make profits from the market. If the average farmer can make a profit by increasing production, which will be necessary if we want to achieve our targets, it is fair to say the farmer with the best land has an even better opportunity because of economies of scale. We must, therefore, get it into our minds that the payments are decoupled.

  From a farmer's point of view, pillar I is only part of the equation. When farmers received information on their farm payments from the Department at the end of the year, they always looked at the bottom line. For 100% of the farmers in the CAP covered industries, this meant the single payment; for 75% of farmers, it meant the single payment and the disadvantaged area payments, and for approximately 33%, depending on REPS and AEOS cycles, it meant the single payment, the disadvantaged area payment and an agri-environmental payment. We have to recognise that, for various reasons the Minister could not reverse, there have been significant decreases for the 75% of farmers receiving the disadvantaged area payment.

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