Opinion

The practice of trading entitlements should cease

Members of the general public would be pretty taken aback, I would assume, if it was pointed out to them that farmers can trade their Basic Payment Scheme entitlements.

Putting the shoe on the other foot, this would be the equivalent of parents being allowed to trade the benefit entitlements they get for their children.

Both schemes represent public support commitments. Yet, different rules apply to the way they are actually delivered.

The upcoming review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be a defining moment for Irish agriculture.

It will encapsulate a host of themes, all of which have a direct bearing on how farmers in this country make a living over the next few years. These include support budgets, eligibility for various payments and recognition that we will soon be living in a post-Brexit world.

But, by far the most significant of these is encapsulated in the question: Who actually gets the money?

By common consent there is a desire to see only those farmers actively producing food made eligible for support payments in the future. The European Union’s Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has already confirmed that such will be his clear focus throughout the upcoming CAP reform discussions.

Assuming that such measures are put in place, this should do away with the practice of trading entitlements, which is so prevalent today.

In truth, the only guys making real money on these transactions are the auctioneers and solicitors, who will duly claim their fees when the deals are done.

Yes entitlements should be included as part of future land sales. But they should always be linked backed to the land on which they were initially drawn down on.

Stripping them out as separate tradable commodities simply serves to break the link between the food support measures available from the EU and production agriculture.

This should never have been allowed to happen in the first place.

Farmers should always remember that funding made available through the CAP is public money. Therefore, taxpayers across the EU have a right to know how their euros are spent.

Farmers, on the other hand, should be allowed to get on with their businesses in ways that provide for growth and sustainability.

Over recent years, too many farm businesses have spent almost all of their time crisis-managing challenges that were not of their making. Extreme market volatility is the most obvious of these.

Phil Hogan is quick to tell dairy farmers about the dangers inherent in overproduction.

But he forgets to point out that the origins of the last crisis in dairy prices can be traced back to the political disagreements between the EU and Russia over Ukraine.

It goes without saying that agriculture needs support. Making sure that the money goes to – and stays with – those farmers actively producing food is one way of ensuring that family farms in this country are best protected from the challenges that lie ahead.