Cowen takes part in first EU agriculture ministers meeting

Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen has taken part in his first EU-level meeting in his new role, with a meeting of the European Agriculture and Fisheries Council taking place yesterday, Monday, June 29.

The meeting, which brings together agriculture ministers from all EU member states, discussed the progress up to now on the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

During the meeting, Cowen took a similar line as his predecessor Michael Creed, saying that environmental measures in CAP need to be matched “by an appropriate budget”.

Ireland has always favoured a strong green ambition in the new CAP. The recent Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies have highlighted the direction of travel for European Agriculture.

“As we move forward, if we are to deliver on the environmental ambition, we must provide the necessary financial support for farmers,” the minister said.

The minister also emphasised the need to “move quickly” to carry out impact assessments on the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. He also called for “further clarity” on aspects of the CAP reform proposals for environmental objectives, including conditionality and the new eco-schemes.

Minister Cowen highlighted the importance of agreeing an EU budget to fund CAP, particularly in light of the agriculture sector’s “vitally important role in helping to deal with the Covid-19 crisis”.

We need to value, support and, most of all, we need to properly fund the CAP system that enables this to happen.

The meeting of EU agriculture ministers comes as it was revealed that direct payments accounted for some 160% of suckler farm incomes in 2019.

Payments under the Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) and various other schemes accounted for an average of 77% of all family farm incomes across all sectors last year, according to the Teagasc National Farm Survey 2019 preliminary results.

This meant that the average direct payment across the board amounted to €427/ha out of an overall family farm income (FFI) of €554/ha on average.

Of these, the percentage the direct payments made as a proportion of the overall FFI varied considerably from sector to sector last year, the survey’s preliminary results – published yesterday, Monday, June 29 – found.

This ranged from just 31% of FFI for the average dairy farm last year, to a whopping 160%, which was the ‘cattle rearing’ (suckler) farm average in 2019.