‘We don’t need to apologise for calling for an increase in the CAP budget’

Farmers shouldn’t need to apologise for calling for an increase in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget, according to the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Joe Healy.

Yesterday (Wednesday, March 21) the IFA welcomed Oireachtas members to an event in Dublin to underline the importance of CAP.

Speaking to AgriLand, Healy said: “We’re calling for an increase of 0.2%, up to 1.2% of GNI (gross national income), in the EU budget and it is realistic. You might say it is optimistic as well, but it’s not just a figure that we plucked out of the air.

The CAP budget hasn’t kept pace with inflation; agricultural prices haven’t nearly kept pace. It is important to get the message out there that the CAP has been a benefit to the half a billion EU consumers – farmers and non-farmers.

“By way of explanation, if you go back to the 1960s when the CAP was introduced, there was 30% of the average household income being spent on food.

“Today in Ireland, that’s 9%; across Europe it ranges from 9% to 12%. That proves that it has been a benefit to the non-farmer, as well as the farmer.”

Healy added that CAP has partly compensated farmers for producing food at a price that was affordable to the consumer.

CAP budget

Continuing, he said: “I don’t think we need to make any apologies for looking for the budget to be increased; because we have lost a lot of value, it hasn’t been index-linked to inflation and what you could get for a €1,000 seven years ago, you wouldn’t buy it now for €1,000.

If there are new initiatives – such as migration, security or defence – that has to be funded by new money as well. The CAP budget cannot be raided for any new initiative.

The CAP has been hugely beneficial to rural Ireland, the IFA president explained.

“People talk about generational renewal and regenerating rural economies; there is no better person than a farmer to spend money – whether it is on fencing, machinery, sheds or livestock.

“It’s about creating employment in rural areas and the CAP money going into rural areas is a big help in that scenario,” he said.

Meanwhile, Healy outlined that IFA is committed to ensuring that active farmers are taken care of in the upcoming CAP reform.

I’m very clear on this, no one should get anything for doing nothing and I make no apology for that.

“The IFA talks about supporting the active farmer; that can be a farmer that is producing top-quality food and a lot of it. Or it can be a farmer that’s – because their land doesn’t allow him or her to do so – maybe not producing as much food, but who is maintaining the environment.

“There is no one better placed than the farmer to maintain the environment and to do our bit for climate change. We have proven that; since 1990, we have increased our output from agriculture by 40% and we have reduced our emissions by 3.5%.

“No other sector can match those sorts of figures. I think that farmers who are doing their bit on a production basis, on an environment basis or both need to be supported,” Healy added.

Rural Ireland

The CAP is a core part of farmers’ incomes and needs to be protected, according to Fianna Fail TD Jackie Cahill.

Deputy Cahill told AgriLand that his party supports the IFA’s calls for an increase in the EU budget of 0.2% to provide for an increase in the CAP budget.

There will be arguments over how CAP is going to be divided; but we have to get the budget first.

“With the UK leaving, the only way to maintain the CAP budget is to increase contributions; it is absolutely essential for rural economies,” the Fianna Fail TD, who is also a dairy farmer, said.

He believes the increased contribution would be “money well spent“.

Impact of Brexit

Similar sentiments were shared by Fine Gael TD Pat Deering.

Speaking to AgriLand, he said: “Our own Government has committed to increasing the budget on the basis that there would be new things to be done. There is huge pressure as we know on the agricultural budget; at least 38% of the overall budget, which is quite big.

“It has been dropping over the last number of years as well. There are huge competing elements for it.

From our point of view, I think we have a very good argument to be made on the basis that Brexit is going to affect us disproportionately to other countries.

“I think we have a good argument to make in that regard for extra funding to compensate for Brexit,” he concluded.