‘If we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food’: Reaction to CAP 2020 proposals

The Irish farming organisations have given their reactions to today’s announcement from the European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan on the White Paper on the Future of Food and Farming, which outlined proposals for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020.


Responding to the announcement, Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy said an increased budget is essential for the future CAP to be effective and to ensure a supply of safe, sustainably-produced food for European consumers.

Healy said: “If we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food. Low farm income in many sectors remains the most significant challenge to the sustainability of farming enterprises across the EU, and in attracting new entrants into farming. The CAP post-2020 must deliver a fair standard of living for farmers, with an overall improvement in income levels.

In addition, Europe must show solidarity with farmers over Brexit by making up the shortfall in the CAP budget arising from the departure of the UK from the EU.

The IFA president added: “In contrast to the economic landscape of the last CAP reform, we are in the position now where the EU economy is growing again. In this environment, securing an increased budget to deliver a positive CAP reform must be the key priority for Commissioner Hogan.”

Healy said he was concerned about a reference in the paper that the EU budget will have to do more to meet new challenges and that the CAP will have to be looked at in this context.

“Commissioner Hogan cannot allow the CAP budget to be raided; any new EU initiatives must be funded by new money,” he said.

Healy outlined that retaining the two-pillar model of CAP is critical and he welcomed the new reference to this in the latest document. “The Rural Development Programme, with its diverse range of flexible instruments, is vitally important in supporting targeted programmes that reflect the different economic, social and environmental circumstances in member states.”

The IFA president said in setting the key policy parameters of the CAP post-2020, Commissioner Hogan has a real opportunity to ensure that direct payments strongly support active farmers, based upon relevant and objective criteria.

Joe Healy
IFA president Joe Healy

Healy said the delivery of environmental public goods and enhanced production standards have a real value and this must be reflected in the direct payments farmers receive in the next CAP.

The IFA President concluded that Commissioner Hogan has identified simplification as a key ambition in this CAP Reform. He said simplification must deliver real practical results, with reduced bureaucracy at farm level.


A spokesperson for the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has said that the organisation is currently studying the proposals and needs to fully assess it. However, on the surface, the INHFA is concerned over the proposal of responsibility being given to member states from Europe.

Going on past experience, the organisation representative added, Brussels has been fairer than Dublin – and problems have previously arisen with the Irish government, not the EU.


Giving his own reaction, the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) John Comer said that it was noteworthy that while farm income is mentioned and dealt with in the communication, the overriding emphasis appears to be on environmental and climate change matters – and it was therefore extremely difficult to see either improved farmer incomes or a simplified system being progressed based on today’s communication.

Comer added that ‘sustainability’ is obviously the commission’s new ‘buzz word’ for farming, but it was clear that any concept of economic sustainability for farmers is still way down the commission’s list of priorities.

“Clearly there are a number of positives in the communication which should be acknowledged; we particularly recognise the suggestions that support is targeted to genuine farmers who are actively farming in order to earn their living, a compulsory cap on direct payments, and the interest expressed in the ICMSA proposal for a Farm Management Deposit Scheme that would enable farmers – through the taxation system – to save funds in good years to cope with bad years.

We also warmly welcome the recognition of farmers’ completely disadvantaged position in the food supply chain and the ambition to change this.

“However, the disappointing aspect of the communication is the absence of any concrete measures from the EU Commission to address the utterly destructive price volatility that is wrecking the family farm system.

“The concept of risk management is being put forward again; but – in the ICMSA’s opinion – in periods of market downturn, what is required is direct action by the EU Commission to address income crisis; the Voluntary Milk Supply Reduction Scheme is a clear example of an effective measure of the type that should be used going forward,” he continued.

supply chain
John Comer, president of the ICMSA

“The starting point for any debate here is the CAP budget post-2020 and it’s absolutely critical that the current CAP budget is, at least, maintained – so we welcome the government commitment in this regard post-Brexit. It is absolutely essential that farm families across the EU are not made pay for Brexit in the same way as they ended up paying for the Russian boycott,” he said.

Comer concluded by stating that farmers will be concerned by the lack of any priority or prominence given to their economic viability under CAP as it goes forward. There would also be reservations about the still excessive levels of bureaucracy and the lack of any plan to address South American beef imports produced without any standards and in an environmentally reckless manner.

Macra na Feirme

Derry Dillon, Macra na Feirme’s agriculture and rural affairs manager, commented on the proposals, noting that it was promising that the whole area of generational renewal was very high on the agenda.

Dillon said that the succession planning – having supports for younger farmers who are getting into the sector, and also supports for older farmers who are looking to take a step back – are vital for meeting the challenge of an ageing farming population.

The reference to land mobility – a collaborative arrangement aimed at utilising land, a relatively limited resource in Ireland, to its full potential – was also welcomed by Macra.

It was noted that two key factors highlighted by Macra in its CAP submission – the importance of attracting new farmers and the importance of land mobility – were referenced in the document, which was welcomed by the organisation.


Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) president Patrick Kent has welcomed the communication saying it represented “an ambitious vision of the role of the Common Agricultural Policy, while recognising that fair income for farmers and generational renewal had to be at the heart of it.”

However, Kent said that the communication was under the shadow of uncertainty around the budget for the CAP post-2020.

Unless there is more CAP funding, it is pointless being more ambitious.

Regarding plans to give member states more flexibility around the design of individual CAP programmes, Kent said that while there were potential attractions to this strategy he would be worried that some member states would go over the top in terms of regulations and implementation in a way that would disadvantage their farmers compared to other member states’ farmers.

ICSA president Patrick Kent

Kent welcomed the fact that capping payments was on the agenda and expressed the hope that a realistic cap would be in place across Europe with a view to ensuring that large scale operations, including factory controlled or owned feedlots, could not continue to get six figure sums from the CAP – something which tarnishes the reputation of all farmers through a small few.

Kent emphasised that there needs to be greater focus on making sure that all CAP schemes are efficient at delivering money to farmers. “The current RDP scheme is too complex with schemes which leak a lot of funds to advisors and professionals, while delivering small sums to farmers who are meant to be the beneficiaries. This has to change.”

“On generational renewal, we need to recognise that this is a two way process and we should be thinking of a retirement scheme to complement better supports for young farmers.

ICSA also welcomes mention of the bio-economy in the communication. However, the ability of farmers to produce renewable energy needs to be crystallised in EU and national policies on biofuels, solar energy and anaerobic digestion.

Kent said that the focus on risk management and income stabilisation tools could not be seen as a substitute for proper incomes. “We are open to persuasion, but there is a concern that complex financial instruments could result in a leakage of funds out of CAP into the insurance sector. Moreover, there is a worry that income stabilisation could lead to a perverse incentive to cut prices even more by processors/retailers in order to allow the income stabilisation tool to kick in.”

Concluding, Kent said: “The eight key goals for the new CAP is ambitious and this is fine in principle; but we need to have reality in how much we ask farmers to do and we need to ensure that better farm incomes are the most important measure of sustainability.”