Comment: CAP deal all fine and dandy – but who gets the money?

Comment: Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney must be congratulated for his commitment to securing what can only be described as a fair and equitable Common Agricultural Policy and Rural Development Programme (RDP) deal for Irish agriculture.

By AgriLand’s reckoning, the Government will co-fund the next RDP to the tune of 46.3per cent, representing a €1.2bn commitment of national funds. This is a more than significant commitment to the future of Irish agriculture.

But when one examines the allocation options regarding the €8bn plus worth of funding coming directly from the EU, courtesy of Pillar I,  the fundamental question arises: who gets the money?

The ICMSA has already made it clear that Pillar I funding must go to those farmers who are actually producing food. This, in turn, brings centre stage the issue of what constitutes an active farmer and the associated conundrum of who will be specifically eligible to draw down Single Farm Payment entitlements post 2015.

Brussels, to date, has shied away from this issue: so will Minister Coveney opt to take a similar approach or will he push to have a specific definition for the term ‘active farmer’ inserted into Irish law?

Irrespective of what legal approach is taken by the Government, it now seems pretty clear that non-farming landowners will not be able to register new entitlements, once the new CAP regulations come into force. As a consequence, there is an onus on both the Minister and the agri-stakeholder groups to agree on how the issue of ‘active farmer’ will be handled.

One of the most encouraging aspects to the Minister’s CAP announcement is the confirmation that Ireland will be treated as one region and that re-coupling of payments has been avoided. If this combined approach had not been taken, the scope to add yet further layers of bureaucracy to what is an already complicated CAP support system would have been unreal.

What’s more, the re-introduction of coupled payments would only have served to distort livestock markets in ways that would have offered no benefit at all to either primary producers or beef finishers. Mind you, the level of support that will be available to suckler beef farmers, courtesy of the CAP measures now envisaged is still not sufficient. If Minister Coveney is serious about protecting the future of the quality beef industry in Ireland, then he will have to find additional monies for the suckler sector over the coming months.