Co. Cork has received nearly €683 million in farmer scheme payments throughout the lifetime of the current Dáil.

In contrast, Co. Dublin has received the lowest amount of payments totalling more than €58 million over the three years to 2022.

The figures, obtained by Fianna Fáil TD for Clare, Cathal Crowe, highlight the economic impact of farmer scheme payments per county since 2020, according economist, Ciaran Fitzgerald.

Last year alone, farmer scheme payments totalled more than €1.9 billion.

Co. Cork also topped the 2022 league table with farmer scheme payments of more than €232.9 million, with Co. Galway next at €167.2 million and then Co. Mayo with payments amounting to more than €139 million.

County€ / 2022
Donegal 113,619,763
Farmer Scheme Payments Source: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Deputy Crowe believes that in general, most farmers would acknowledge that the payment schemes are “generous and that they are also broadly inclusive”.

“Most farmers derive a good benefit from these schemes and they make farming viable. Particularly in Co. Clare for the 6,000 families that are in some way involved in some farming.

“Also in this county we have the most farmers – close to 90% of farmers – who are suckler beef farmers, as I am myself, and suckler beef farmers have been more squeezed in the last few years.

Fianna Fáil TD for Clare, Cathal Crowe during silage season 2022. Image: @CathalCroweTD

“We have seen dairy farming become quite lucrative, some call it liquid gold, whereas those involved in sucker beef are very reliant on payments,” Deputy Crowe said.

He said a lot of farmers in Co. Clare will “move on to organics in 2023” and there were also a lot of farmers who were now waiting for further details and notification on the new Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES).

Deputy Crowe said the payment schemes in previous years have “sustained” farmers and while “the mainstream of ACRES is very positive” – and he hopes to join it himself – the Fianna Fáil TD for Clare, said some aspects, such as the special habitats, might result in a “dilution” of payments in some cases.

“If anything, payments should be upheld or probably increased if we are trying to meet these colossal greenhouse gas reductions and they’re immense – this isn’t all going to be achieved overnight.

“If payments aren’t right then we are going to drive people out of farming, particularly young farmers who could go part-time, and some might exit entirely and lease out their land to a neighbouring farmer.

“In the long run, that could be a costly mistake,” Deputy Crowe warned.

Calf registrations suckler

According to economist Ciaran Fitzgerald, the farmer scheme payments represent a “huge contribution” to income in rural Ireland – but they also raise a number of fundamental questions.

“On one level it is a huge commitment in terms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the government to supports and income supports, and most of this income is going to beef and sheep farmers. In terms of dairy farmers it is a very small figure,” he said.

“But it is a flip of a coin whether you think this demonstrates that with this level of support it makes beef and sheep farming economically sustainable with direct payments.

“Or, the argument that is also made is when, for example, Teagasc publishes its yearly farm income figures and leave out the direct payments, the headline then is usually that farmers are making no money,” Fitzgerald said.

According to the economist there is little debate over the fact that the farmer scheme payments represent “very significant funding for rural economies”.

“You can argue that without these income supports there would be a significant amount of beef and sheep farmers that wouldn’t be economically viable,” Fitzgerald said.

“But you could also argue that because most of this is CAP – even though there is a significant Irish government top up – that what it represents is some form of income compensation due to the fact that agricultural products are sold at or close to cost.

“In the broader scheme of things we are very conscious that meat and fresh vegetables are used as lost leaders by supermarket retailers and given that sort of buying power on behalf of the retailers part of this income compensation is part of a social contract that the government wants food to be affordable for less well off families on the one hand.

“It is important then that if that is a policy that there is an income support because at the level of pricing that we have, particularly for meat and fresh dairy produce, there is an economic viability issue for the producer,” he added.

Total Farmer Scheme Payments 2020-2022 Source: DAFM

Although the figures obtained by Deputy Crowe highlight that Co. Cork clearly topped the league table of farmer scheme payments from 2020 to 2022 they also highlight the impact of payments throughout the country particularly to Co. Galway – which received more than €486 million – and Co. Mayo – which received more than €411 million – and which make up the top three recipients.