Collapse in farming numbers ‘a wake-up call for the west’

There has been a 41% fall in the number of people working in farming, forestry and fishing since 1996, according to figures compiled by Western Development Commission.

This is of major concern for the development of the western region and a damming indictment of current agriculture policy, according to Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Michael Fitzmaurice.

Deputy Fitzmaurice said: “These findings confirm what many farmers already believe. That being, that the future for the family farm is bleak with government and EU policy undermining their viability, through added regulation, increased costs and lower market prices.

“While it is unlikely that we will see any significant increase in farming numbers – as many of these farmsteads have been sold to other farmers or gone to forestry – what is critical is that we protect what we now have.

Farmers – especially in beef and sheep – have to be given hope as these industries are too important, especially to the west of Ireland to allow them go.

Deputy Fitzmaurice stressed that major upcoming decisions to be made in both Dublin and Brussels in the coming months and years, which will determine how many farmers will endure over the coming 20 years.

CAP

He added that over the last few decades, the EU has driven a “cheap food policy”, which has been endorsed by all member states including Ireland.

This policy has seen the average household spend on food almost halve, decreasing from almost 28% of total household expenditure in 1980 to just over 14% in 2016, the deputy highlighted.

He said: “However, in order to ensure farmers continue to produce food and the family farm is protected the EU makes direct payments through the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) programme. In recent years the CAP has also focused on protecting the environment and enhancing rural communities.

Though noble in its intention, the implementation of the CAP in Ireland has undermined the family farm.

The independent TD referenced that fact that some farmers have payments in excess of €100,000 “with little or no cost involved in drawing this down”, while others farming struggle with little or no basic payment and are herded into schemes such as GLAS and the beef genomics where payments are much lower with compliance costs much higher.

“If the family farm – which we are told is the cornerstone of our farming model – is going to survive then this will have to change. We need to build better payments for all farmers on 20ha to 30ha and a front-loaded model could fulfil this need.

“To fund this we reduce the maximum that can be drawn down from all CAP Schemes to €50,000 for any one farmer,” Fitzmaurice said.

Cross-compliance

The deputy also took issue with the cross-compliance system, describing the ‘yellow card’ system as being “closer to a sin-bin than a yellow card”, adding that the current inspection process has terrorised farmers in recent years.

The very vulnerable position farmers are in, through cross-compliance and inspections, needs to be recognised and addressed both in Dublin and in Brussels.

Concluding, Deputy Fitzmaurice said: “In my experience from dealing with farmers over the years both as a contractor and public representative, I have found the vast majority to be honest, hard working and want nothing more than to make a living – not a fortune – from their land.

“Hopefully our officials and public representatives both in Ireland and Europe can also recognise this and act to ensure it happens.”