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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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  2 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris]  Another issue that needs to be addressed is the age imbalance within Irish farming, as a result of which there is a disproportionate number of farmers over the age of 65 years and an average age of 56. There are more farmers over the age of 70 years than under 35. The majority of these older farmers would willingly transfer their land, particularly to farm family members, if there was a productive scheme in place, but a new scheme utilising part of the Irish CAP funds would be required to facilitate that transition. As I understand it, there are proposals that would release some €25 million under Pillar 2 to support younger farmers and a proposal under Pillar 2 to establish a grant of €18,000 in the form of an installation grant for younger farmers. Obviously, such schemes would be most welcome and represent a significant boost for the rural economy, in which the demographics are particularly skewed towards the older farmer.

I hope the Minister will ensure that whatever emerges from the negotiations will be to the benefit of the majority of Irish farmers and the agriculture sector. There is consensus within the wider farming community that we need a fair distribution and equity in what comes out of the process. Some of the commentary from people purporting to represent farming organisations has been very disingenuous and quite insulting to farmers who are struggling to survive on a small family farm on which their family has lived for generations. Everything is set against them. It is no one's fault if they are born onto land that is not as productive as other land, but they are still putting in the same hours and have the same working arrangements, day in, day out. I hope we can move to a more equitable and fairer distribution and we will give the Minister any help we can in that regard.

Our position on the CAP has been that the figure should be €100,000 and reduce to €50,000 over four years. The Fianna Fáil position is that it should be €50,000. It is ironic that when I raised this issue in the House with the then Minister, Mary Coughlan, she accused me of being naive, stupid and failing to understand what I was proposing at the time, which she said would be very damaging to the farm network. Obviously, Fianna Fáil has revisited the policies of the past. If it had had the vision then which it now claims to have, many people who are no longer farming might still be involved.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy The coming reform of the CAP will determine the shape of agriculture in Ireland and the rest of Europe for the next six years and beyond. Our guiding principles in the negotiations must be the productivity targets set out in Food Harvest 2020, fairness and equity in payment distribution, encouragement for younger people to take up farming and the sustainability of family farms, in particular the sustainability of farms in particularly disadvantaged areas such as the west and north-west, the area I represent. Central to the evolving negotiations is the proposal to move to a flat rate per hectare payment in place of the current single farm payment which is based on historical entitlements and subsidies received in the reference year. There is a big imbalance in the system of payments, with larger producers receiving a grossly higher payment than farmers with smaller land holdings. What is needed is a proper redistribution of the payments to reflect a more equitable system of payments for farmers.

There is general acceptance that the reference year is gone. We need a better thought out mechanism to facilitate new entrants, particularly young new entrants, to farming. While I do not know what the solution is, I know we need some well thought out mechanism to achieve this objective.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney We have a national reserve factored into the reform process for new entrants.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy My point concerns the scale of the problem. One of the biggest challenges facing farming is the number of farmers aged over 80 years compared to the number aged under 35. This shows an industry that is going nowhere. We have to encourage young farmers to enter agriculture and give them greater access to the agricultural colleges. There is not enough support for young people to get involved in agriculture, which means many will go off to Australia or France, where there are more favourable start-up schemes for those entering farming.

There should also be an incentive for older farmers to lease their land to younger farmers, possibly through reduced tax rates to allow the younger farmers to be competitive in the start-up years. There is also a need to ensure any new scheme will protect farmers who are working leased land. The last thing we want is to see the guys with the big cheque books buying up or leasing land and then stocking it with minimum stock levels. The well paid professionals with the big cheque books will buy or lease land as a money-making venture, rather than as part of Food Harvest 2020, towards which we are all working.

It looks likely that the maximum payment under the single farm payment scheme will be roughly €318 per hectare for the first 30 hectares and €190 for every hectare thereafter, which would provide farmers with a guaranteed income of about €10,000. As Deputy Martin Ferris said, we seek a cap of €50,000, but, recognising the need for a transition, we argue for an immediate limit of €100,000 on individual payments, moving to €50,000 by 2019. The advantage is that it would be free up €150 million that could be used to make a higher per hectare payment and would mean fewer farmers would see their payments fall.

We also favour a situation where the greening payments under pillar II would be directed more at farmers in genuinely disadvantaged areas, rather than the current situation where Pillar 2 funding is more or less distributed across all farmers. Ultimately, the CAP should ensure that as many farmers as possible are kept on the land, which is not only of benefit to the agriculture industry but also to rural Ireland as a whole, given the money that comes into agriculture at local level is generally spent at local level. The last thing we want is a situation where a small number of very large farmers dominate the sector and remove small farmers from the market. A diverse and well supported agriculture sector is the desired outcome of the CAP negotiations.

When he was embarking on the negotiations, I wished the Minister and his negotiating team all the very best and I continue to do so. He has our full support, but we need to be very clear on the principles to which we are working and the features we want to see achieved.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan I wish to share time with Deputy Tom Fleming.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan I am glad this debate is taking place. When it comes to rural Ireland, I cannot see how any Dáil discussion in the next three years could be more important than this one. It is massive, not just for farmers but also for carpenters, blocklayers and everyone within the rural community. My father is a carpenter and my brother, a blocklayer. Even though they are not farmers, they know that when farmers receive money, they spend it. Whether it be on a built-in wardrobe or putting up a new wall, the money goes back into the community. This is an issue in which everyone in rural Ireland should show an interest, including the chambers of commerce.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead for the Technical Group on this issue which, as I said, is of massive importance. As outlined, the future CAP deal will see Ireland receive over €1.2 billion under Pillar 1, which covers the single payment, and €313 million under Pillar 2, which covers rural development. While this €313 million under Pillar 2 has to be co-financed by the Government, it can be done at different rates. I encourage the Government to co-finance it on a 50:50 basis, which would increase the overall Pillar 2 fund to over €600 million, which would still be €100 million less than under the previous CAP.

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