In my opinion Eamon Ó Cuív got it spot on recently when he likened the current CAP development process espoused by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney as an exercise in stagnation – not of reform!
It is crucially important for the entire farming industry to unite around a CAP reform policy for Ireland that gives the optimal level of support to those producers who are actually producing food. And, in this context, both big farmers and their smaller counterparts, should be treated equally.
So how can we bring this about? The obvious starting point, I would suggest, is to get back to basics. The fundamental policy point agreed in Brussels last June was the ringing endorsement given to the principle of supporting active farms. Surely then there is every good reason for the number crunchers in Dublin to assess the current distribution of single farm payments on the basis of the actual output generated per recipient. This can be quite easily carried out by marrying the information from the 2013 annual farm survey with the amount of single farm payment received per holding last year.
Moreover, it should also be possible to carry out a similar analysis on the basis of the equivalent figures available for 2003, the year in which the Single Farm Payment Scheme was launched This exercise will allow the industry identify which farmers are actually producing food now, where they are located and if they have either increased or decreased their levels of farm output over the past ten years.
Armed with this information the farming industry can then make a much more knowledgeable decision regarding the future distribution of Pillar 1 monies. In my opinion the support must go to those farmers who have actually increased output over the past number of years and have invested accordingly in their businesses.
The big downside to the approach now being followed by Simon Coveney, is that it merely serves to lock the farming industry into a support system that reflects the production trends of a decade and more ago. And if this does become reality sceptics – including Eamon Ó Cuív – will argue that the process of reform has been put on to one side and sacrificed on the ‘altar of stagnation!’