Any policy to a apply a lower cap to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments should be voluntary, according to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.

The minister made the comments in his address to the ‘Cap sur la Pac’ Conference at the OECD Paris.

He welcomed the “strong commitment” to direct payments in the communication from the EU Commission on the vision for the CAP post-2020, entitled ‘The Future of Food and Farming’.

Minister Creed said: “They are crucial in providing income support and stability, and are a major element of family farm income.

“Of course they are often criticised because they are not responsive to market volatility.

However, they have a value that goes beyond that; because farm families know that – come what may in the market place – they will receive their basic payment every year. This is invaluable.

From recent discussions, the minister explained that it is clear that member states are not in favour of the co-financing of ‘Pillar 1’ direct payments.

Continuing, he said: “This would be a retrograde step which could undermine the ‘single market’ and lead to ‘nationalisation’ of agricultural policy. The communication proposes better targeting of direct payments through exploring a variety of options, including capping.

“Ireland availed of the option under Article 11 of Regulation 1307/2013 and since 2015 has already put a cap of €150,000 on payments under the basic payment scheme. This means that no farmer in Ireland can receive more than €150,000 under the Basic Payment Scheme annually.

I am glad therefore that the communication refers to capping. However, my view is that any policy to apply a lower cap should be voluntary.

“Conditions are not the same across member states. For example there are very large farms in former eastern bloc member states, in receipt of large direct payments, that support many families and employees.

“So while the common narrative of 80% of payments to 20% of farms is emotive, and can be damaging to reputation of CAP, member states are best positioned to assess the reality on the ground,” he concluded.

In the past, repeated calls have been made to Minister Creed from opposition TDs and political parties to significantly reduce the maximum ceiling limit for CAP payments.