Direct payments: How do farm bodies define a ‘genuine farmer’?

Under the EU’s legislative proposals for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020, direct payments will apparently be ringfenced exclusively for ‘genuine farmers’.

The phrase ‘genuine farmer’ was copper-fastened by the European Commission when its legislative proposals on the new CAP were published in June 2018.

It follows on from the definition of an ‘active farmer’ as outlined under the last reform of the EU’s flagship policy for the period 2014-2020.

The provision was made compulsory by the commission in 2015 in order to avoid granting aid to individuals and companies whose agricultural activity is marginal.

The key element of the ‘active farmer’ provision was a “negative list” of businesses/activities – these included: airports; waterworks; real estate services; railway services; and permanent sport and recreational grounds – whereby such entities were not considered farms; rather they just happen to have some farmland.

The commission stated that entities operating an activity on the “negative list” were not considered ‘active farmers’ unless they could decisively prove that their farming activity was not marginal.

However, during the subsequent years some member states raised concerns that difficulties and administrative costs accruing from implementing the ‘active farmer’ clause – and in particular the elements relating to the “negative list” – outweighed the upside.

This upside involved the exclusion of a very limited number of non-active beneficiaries from direct support schemes.

Member state responsibility

Responding to these concerns, the commission – under the leadership of Kilkenny native and EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan – has proposed to modify the rules by placing responsibility for defining an ‘active farmer’ – or ‘genuine farmer’ as will be adopted post-2020 – squarely onto the shoulders of individual member states.

According to the commission, the precise definition of a ‘genuine farmer’ is now expected to be based on a number of factors including: income tests; labour input on a farm; the objective of a businesses; and/or inclusion in business registers.

The commission has also outlined that the definition must ensure that “no support” can be granted to those whose agricultural activity forms “only an insignificant part” of their overall economic activity, or those whose principal business activity is not agricultural.

However, the commission has stressed to member states that part-time farmers or “pluri-active farmers ” – i.e. those that are actively farming; but are also engaged in non-agricultural activities outside their farm – must not be excluded from the definition.

From an Irish perspective, anxiety has been building in recent months over the prospect of applying income or labour input tests to the criteria for direct payment schemes.

Also Read: Genuine farmer definition ‘not a satisfactory one’

From farmers to farm lobby groups, to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, and senior officials within his department, there are fears that such measures would lead to “significant operational difficulties” and further complications down the line.

And so, as the quest for an appropriate definition under the Irish CAP strategic plan continues, AgriLand asked the country’s farm organisations how they believe a ‘genuine farmer’ should be defined.

ICMSA

First up, Pat McCormack, the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), said that as far as the organisation is concerned a ‘genuine farmer’ is “someone engaged in a meaningful level of farming activity on a daily basis”.

I think we may have to start looking at, for instance, stocking densities or other output metrics as a measure of what constitutes a ‘genuine farmer’.

“There is the question of leased land and how changes in definitions could impact in an inflationary way there, so we’d want that looked at.”

McCormack stated that it might be easier to define “what we all know” not to be a ‘genuine farmer’.

I’m referring there to the so-called ‘armchair farmers’ – individuals or corporations who own the land, but don’t farm and have no interest in farming but are, nevertheless, in receipt of often massive amounts of direct payments.

“That certainly has to stop and a consensus has long existed on that. We already know, as we debate CAP 2020, that the EU definition of ‘farmer’ is increasingly likely to stress environmental aspects.

“The ICMSA will absolutely insist that the commercial basis of the Irish family farm system is not downgraded or compromised as that definition goes forward for debate,” he said.

IFA

Responding to the question: ‘How does the IFA think a ‘genuine farmer’ should be defined?’, the lobby group issued this statement:

“The IFA is holding a series of meetings to consult with our members about the forthcoming CAP reform.

“We have held eight meetings already and will hold two more this week, in Kerry and Limerick. At each meeting this issue has been raised and some interesting proposals are emerging.

However, one message from our members all over the country – that was highlighted at our AGM by IFA president Joe Healy – is that CAP funding should go to genuine farmers and can no longer be used to fund sheikhs and beef barons.

“The new CAP proposals refer to ‘genuine farmers’ and our Department of Agriculture has to face up to defining this.

“There is no doubt that devising objective criteria will be challenging; but it is a challenge that has to be taken on,” the lobby group stated.

Macra na Feirme

In a statement Macra na Feirme said it “strongly opposes” the omnibus proposal to allow member states the option whether or not to apply the ‘active farmer’ or ‘genuine farmer’ definition.

“It is of the utmost importance the same standard active/genuine farmer definition is upheld by all member states.

“Macra na Feirme demands a powerful active farmer definition – comprised of positive and negative aspects, capable of refocusing the distribution of payments to active farmers.”

Macra recommends maintaining the current negative list with the following parameters to be considered when redefining the active farmer definition:

  • Completion of a five-year farm business development plan must be mandatory;
  • Payments should only go to farmers delivering public goods;
  • Completion of continuous farm health and safety training courses must be mandatory;
  • A minimum level of agricultural activity must be implemented – for example: stocking rates; cropping rates; etc – set by individual member states;
  • Farmers must undertake a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training plan to provide them with the ongoing skills and knowledge needed to foster innovation and embrace the latest technologies;
  • Completion of a farm succession plan upon reaching the age of 63 must be mandatory (to promote inter-generational renewal).

Macra says that it is also currently undertaking further consultations around the country on CAP – aimed at continuing to develop its definition of a ‘genuine farmer’.

Irish Grain Growers Group

It is the view of the Irish Grain Growers Group (IGGG) that the original basis for the CAP budget was to get ‘active’ family farmers to produce quality traceable food at a reasonable cost for European citizens.

Under the new definition, the group says “we must head back in that direction again”.

“Landowners who cannot prove they are actively farming must not be allowed swallow up EU payments.

“This is money lost to farming, as it does not circulate within agricultural trading, with merchants, machinery dealerships and the like.

Large-scale operations – industrial farms – need to be curbed when it comes to receiving EU payments. This goes against the family farming ethos that the EU promotes.

“Those applying for EU payments must prove that a large percentage of their taxable income comes from producing the raw material.”

“The Government and department officials must remember where the original budget came from – those capable of producing food and feed on productive land.

“The Government has a balancing act to play when drawing up the Irish strategic plan on CAP, but it must keep the full-time family farmer out in the field working – producing the raw material – at its core,” the statement concluded.

Beef Plan Movement

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Beef Plan Movement outlined that group’s definition, noting: “A ‘genuine farmer’ should be someone who farms themselves or employs someone to farm on his or her behalf,” the statement outlined.

INHFA

It is the view of the Irish Natura Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) that a ‘genuine farmer’ should be defined as:

“Any natural or legal person whose holding is situated within the territory of Ireland and who carries out an agricultural activity on the agricultural areas of that holding.”

IFRG

Meanwhile, according to the Irish Family-Farm Rights Group (IFRG), a ‘genuine farmer’ should be defined as:

“A sole trader or partner who is trained in good farming practice, or qualifies for an exemption from that training, and owns or occupies (and works/maintains) land in good agricultural and environmental condition for the purposes of achieving outputs.”

According to the group, these outputs should be achieved within:
  • Certain prescribed minimum and maximum ratios of production units to land area;
  • Certain prescribed carbon emissions limits;
  • Adherence to best practice in animal welfare and crop production methods.

The group explained that outputs should encompass the following: plants or animals for human consumption; animal feed-stuffs; fodder; alternative energy crops; plants involved in carbon sequestration; the preservation of soil and waterway quality; the preservation of valued or endangered flora and fauna; the enhancement of amenities; and the production of organic materials.

The IFRG went on to state that any or all of the outputs achieved from these activities should be: for the farmer’s own use; for sale by the farmer; or set aside by the farmer for the public good – whereby the farmer does not earn more than 1.5 times the average industrial wage in off-farm income.