Brexit, beef and branding: INHFA outlines Budget 2021 proposals

The government has been called on “to ensure that all farmers are catered for in this year’s budget”.

This comes as the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) sets out its proposals for Budget 2021.

While acknowledging the impact of Covid-19, especially in relation to government spending, the organisation stressed the importance of agriculture for the overall Irish economy and Ireland’s rural communities.

INHFA president Colm O’Donnell stressed the sheer damage that a no-deal Brexit could inflict on Irish farmers next year.

As a result, he said that Budget 2021 will “need to recognise the sectors and people most at risk and deliver the necessary measures and supports”.

The INHFA’s budget proposals include the following points:
  • Suckler beef sector: The INHFA seeks €160 million to deliver direct support for suckler farmers through a Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme (BEEP) 2 payment. This, it says, would provide a payment of €200 on the first 10 cows with a digressive payment thereafter and would be paid on the delivery of specific measures. An additional €4 million through Bord Bia is also sought to develop a “naturally reared suckler beef brand”;
  • Sheep sector: The INHFA seeks a continued Sheep Welfare Scheme with an increased budget of €36 million to ensure payments of up to €20 on each ewe. €500,000 is also sought to conduct a feasibility study on options for wool use;
  • Brexit: Additional funding is sought to market Irish beef into mainland Europe as well as tax concessions for shipping companies to develop direct routes to the European mainland;
  • Agri-environmental schemes: On this the INHFA is calling for an overall budget commitment in 2021 of €300 million. This will allow for the roll-over of the Green, Low-carbon, Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS) and provide enough funding to commence the new Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS), the association says;
  • Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC): The INHFA calls for an increased budget allocation of €25 million to deliver a total budget of €275 million. This would see increased payments for all qualifying farmers and deliver a maximum payment of €5,000;
  • Climate change and biodiversity loss: At EU level the cost of this burden is assessed at €150/ha/year, the organisation says, adding that the state should provide a budget of €120 million per year to pay farmers/landowners affected;
  • Forestry: On this the INHFA is seeking a change in policy that would end state funding for multi-nationals and pension funds. This can be done by ensuring afforestation scheme funds are instead only used to encourage farmers to plant a portion of their holdings with commercial broadleaf or native woodlands.

According to O’Donnell, the above proposals “can deliver for almost 100,000 farmers through short and medium-term interventions for our suckler and sheep sectors”.

“Both of these sectors have over the years suffered the most in terms of declining income and are now the most vulnerable in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” he added.

The INHFA has also made proposals around tax reform where it has prioritised measures around farm safety, the president said.

“In addition, we have sought changes to the Farm Assist Scheme and proposed increasing the number of places in the Rural Social Scheme by 500. On this scheme we have also proposed doubling of the weekly top-up payment from €22.50 up to €45,” O’Donnell concluded.