Budget ‘must position farming and agri-food for post Covid-19 recovery’

Measures must be delivered in Budget 2021 to enable the farming and agri-food sectors to deal with the ongoing challenges presented by Covid-19 and Brexit amongst others, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA).

Commenting, ICMSA president Pat McCormack said that stability is a must in the agri-food sector to give Irish farmers a platform to build a recovery right throughout the country.

On the question of Brexit, McCormack said that it is vital that everyone understands that even if we got the optimum deal of the type that we certainly required for post-Brexit trading, it will still be a step down on present arrangements.

It will also impact on the sector most exposed to the new ‘downgraded’ arrangements – farming and agri-food, he stressed.

It is therefore necessary for the government to plan support for this vital export sector in a way that best utilises and complements the EU Brexit fund.

“It would also be necessary to go directly to the family farm level that was the backbone of our farming sector and support them through the introduction of a Farm Management Deposit Scheme concept that would address the wild fluctuations in income that are battering family farms and eliminating any prospect of them being able to plan their business on any kind of predictable year-to-year basis.”

The president highlighted that such a scheme would be “cost-neutral over time” and completely supervised by the government, adding:

“It will give the farmers of Ireland some sense of security at a time when it was never more badly needed.”

Turning to tax, according to the ICSMA the disparity between the Earned Income Credit allocated to PAYE workers and self-employed individuals “should be finally closed while practical and uncomplicated measures that smooth the transfer of family farms to the next generation need to be retained and improved”.

Regarding farm schemes, McCormack said that the underpinning role that farm schemes play in overall farm income needs to be recognised and protected.

He said that Pillar II schemes such as the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC), Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) and Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) need to be retained and fully funded for 2021.

McCormack said that, while no one under-estimates the challenge facing the government in Budget 2021, the exports provided by the agri-food sector would be required if rural areas are to participate in the post-Covid recovery.

In farming and food production Ireland possesses “specific natural and technical skills that make us world-leaders”. This has to be protected, fostered and grown in a sustainable way, the president concluded.