National aid top-up should go exclusively to cereal growers

Setting up an emergency roundtable discussion group for the tillage sector sounds great in principle.

But, in practice, it will be nothing more than a talking shop with any decisions arrived at taking months to implement.

Surely the most obvious way for cereal growers to secure they help they need is for the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, to green light the national top-up for the EU Exceptional Aid package and, in the same sentence, declare that the money – €11m – has been ring-fenced for tillage farmers.

I am fully aware of the fact that the Exceptional Aid package – as currently constituted – is available as a livestock support measure. However, I see no reason why, given current circumstances, Minister Creed cannot make a special case to Brussels in the light of the challenges now facing Irish cereal growers.

EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan keeps telling people that he wants a more flexible support system made available to farmers. Now he has a chance of making this a reality.

The Fianna Fail proposal to establish a strand alone emergency fund, outside of the exceptional aid measures does not stand up to scrutiny.

In the first instance, it will be seen by Brussels as a completely new measure, which would have to be put through the Commission’s entire vetting process. Invariably, that will take months.

And there is absolutely no guarantee that, at the end of this process, Brussels would agree to the measure, even if it was a case of Ireland making national funds available. The small matter of illegal national state aid comes to mind in this regard.

Fundamentally, Irish cereal growers need help now. So why not get on the horse with the best chance of getting everyone across the winning line first.

A quick call from Dublin might be all that’s required to get Brussels’ approval for tillage payment under the emergency aid scheme. It would then be a case of Minister Creed going to the first meeting of the tillage roundtable with a guaranteed €11m support fund available for cereal growers.