With EU-level negotiations on reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) moving into high gear this week, there are fears that the current proposals for reform will “cost farmers millions”.

With the EU’s agriculture ministers meeting this week to work out the details on a number of issues, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said that proposals around the new eco-schemes in particular will be a hit on farmers’ payments.

“The EU is proposing to cut between 20% and 30% from farmer’s basic payments and to only give some of it back. It’s not rewarding farmers, it’s penalising them,” IFA president Tim Cullinan said.

“The current proposals will hit farmers with higher per hectare payments disproportionately, as the eco-schemes will only be paid back at a flat rate.

“There will also be compliance costs and charges for consultants to validate the actions farmers will have to take,” Cullinan highlighted.

At present, the council of agriculture ministers is working on the basis of 20% of Pillar I payments being diverted to eco-schemes. However, the EU Parliament is demanding 30%.

As a compromise, the council has considered the possibility that the figure being ring-fenced for eco-schemes should start on the lower end of that scale and gradually increase over the lifetime of the next CAP.

There is also a proposal to allow a two-year learning phase to allow member states to become used to administering the new eco-schemes. Such a ‘trial period’ has been supported by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.

“The minister must get the maximum possible flexibility on eco-schemes so they can be implemented in a way that supports productive farmers,” Cullinan said.

On the issue of convergence, the IFA president stated that the EU Parliament’s position of 100% convergence “risks devastating the incomes of farmers with higher per hectare payments regardless of how few hectares they have”.

Cullinan also claimed that the European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski was “doing nothing to support farmers”.

“The reality is that the [climate action] commissioner Frans Timmermans has been running the show on CAP talks with the agriculture commissioner missing in action.”

Cullinan concluded: “It is vital that Minister McConalogue secures maximum flexibility on eco-schemes; holds the line on the EU Council proposal for a maximum of 75% convergence; and ensures there are no restrictions for farmers on peat soils.”