Opinion

Farm organisations should come clean on their CAP budget priorities

We now have a pretty good idea of what sort of budget the EU will allocate for the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) agreement.

And given this crucial development, is it not time for all the farming organisations to come out with a detailed assessment of what Ireland really needs in this regard? Surely, we have gone beyond the rhetoric of simply calling for a general increase in funding levels.

One of the big issues that must be addressed in the current CAP negotiations is that of re-introducing coupled payments.

The IFA (Irish Farmers’ Association), for example, wants a bespoke headage payment for suckler cows. This is a coupled payment of sorts. And if it’s an approach that can be taken for the beef sector, what about sheep or tillage for that matter?

Decoupling was introduced as part of the Fischler package of measures that were agreed in 2003.

Back then the argument was made that the EU would contravene World Trade Organisation (WTO) regulations, if it did not sever the link between production agriculture and the support made available to farmers.

That was 15 years ago. Since then the EU has signed up to free trade deals with a number of the world’s leading food producing nations and wants to continue on down this path during the period ahead.

Take the deal struck with Canada as a case in point. Yes, milk quotas are a fact of life in that country. However, Canada’s beef industry is totally committed to expansion and now views Europe as a key export destination for its output.

Meanwhile, the prospect of the EU doing a trade deal with South America’s Mercosur group has mind-boggling implications for both parties at a number of levels.

However, the core issue that must be recognised is the fact that most South American countries view the expansion of their farming sectors as a priority; and this is particularly so, where Brazil is concerned.

Nobody can underplay the role played by CAP in underpinning Irish farm incomes over the past 40 years. But times are changing.

For one thing, the level of bureaucracy confronting farmers today is much greater than was the case even 10 years ago. Producers also need more clarity on how the various CAP support schemes can impact on their businesses.

Given this backdrop, it behoves the various farm stakeholder groups to clarify their policies now, particularly where the next CAP budget is concerned.