Farmers and the wider rural community will be “watching closely” as the details of Budget 2020 emerge, with expectations high that the accessibility of significant agri-sector Brexit supports will be fully revealed, a farm leader has stated.

It is understood that Budget 2020 will include a specific Brexit contingency support fund of up to €1 billion, with the possibility of borrowing €650 million in the event of a hard Brexit on October 31 next.

Speaking this morning, Pat McCormack president of Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) said that the agri-food sector is the “most exposed” sector of the Irish economy to Brexit – now just 23 days away.

He warned that the budget must supply full details on urgent farm-level supports.

“Obviously the budget will have to include a Brexit support fund and, just as importantly, the details of how this fund will be accessed and utilised will have to be spelled out.

We’re putting the Government on notice here: The Brexit fund had better be accessible to the farmers, all farmers, and had better not be reserved for factories, processors or promotional boards.

“Those people get their wages paid in any event and regardless; it’s the farmers who will feel the impact of Brexit most immediately and heavily – they are the ones who’ll need access to the Brexit fund,” he said.

McCormack cautioned that farmers have been operating “in a complete knowledge vacuum” since this time last year, with losses now hitting up to €200/head, with no support package in place since May 12, 2019.

He pointed out that Brexit uncertainty is leading to a “major crisis of confidence” in farming, particularly on the beef side, but also in the dairy sector.

“Just last week we had the announcement of likely US tariffs on our food exports to that market.

“The Taoiseach is on record as saying he ‘had our backs’; the budget will show whether that was sincere.

“The Brexit impact has been hitting agriculture since autumn 2018 and detailed plans for supports – for the farm families – must be part of the budget announcement,” said the ICMSA president.

Taxation measures

On taxation measures, McCormack said that “yet again” 2018/2019 has shown how farm families are exposed to income volatility – whether Brexit or weather related.

“ICMSA believes that the Government, if it is serious about supporting farm families, then must introduce a tax income volatility measure.

“We again recommend a Farm Management Deposit Scheme type concept, while the discrimination in the Earned Income Credit against self-employed people must be fully removed in Budget 2020.

ICMSA acknowledges the current Government’s progress on the Earned Income Credit, but the gap must be closed fully for 2020.

“Farm investment is a major driver of economic activity in rural areas and ICMSA has proposed a number of measures to support farm investment, particularly in the area of climate change.

“As part of its much heralded focus on climate and carbon reduction, it is important that Budget 2020 is proactive in supporting climate efficient practices on farms.

“This is a ‘make-or-break’ year for Irish farming and either we have the policies and incentives to get past Brexit and go forward or we stall and go into reverse.

“I hope for all our sakes that the Government understands that,” McCormack concluded.