‘Full-time farmers on the breadline can’t afford to take any more cuts’

Questions have been raised over whether or not there is sufficient funds to meet the needs of farmers in the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should a rollover take effect in a few months time.

The comments were made by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) director general Damien McDonald during the launch of the organisation’s ‘Manifesto for European Parliament & Local Government Elections 2019’, which took place in Dublin’s city centre this morning, Wednesday, April 10.

McDonald told those gathered that there were “major concerns” over the policy because of the fact that the current parliament had failed to settle CAP post-2020.

The current CAP will be rolled over for one, if not, two years.

He continued: “It is another particular problem that could arise and will complicate matters. There could very well be an issue now as to whether or not there will be a sufficient budget to maintain it as it is.”

‘No more cuts’

IFA’s president Joe Healy said there would be further decreases in the CAP budget and warned that funding could be down by as much as 29% when the new policy is determined.

“Finalisation of the CAP 2027 is not only important for farmers but for the lifetime of the new parliament and we want to ensure that the CAP is fully funded – that is one of IFA’s main priorities in terms of Brexit,” he added.

Healy warned that CAP funding had decreased over the years and could be down by as much as 29% in CAP post-2020.

He went on to say that farm leaders – like himself – were privy to proposals that suggested there would be a cut of 5% to the budget because of Brexit.

This, the IFA president pointed out, equated to a €97 million decrease in funding for Ireland.

“With inflation of 2% factored in that’s a loss in the region of €246 million – Irish farmers can’t take cuts like that at a time of such challenges,” he continued.

“We have a lot of full-time farmers on the breadline and they can’t afford to take any further cuts.”

‘Carrying the Brexit burden’

Joe Healy told those gathered for the launch of the manifesto today that Irish beef farmers are living with the Brexit uncertainty “every day” despite the UK’s failure to depart from Europe.

Healy said IFA had estimated that the sector had already incurred losses amounting to €100 million.

“The uncertainty of Brexit has caused huge problems in the farming sector. Over the last few weeks, IFA has carried out an analysis of the Brexit impact here – taking September to March 2015-2016 and comparing that with September to March 2018-2019. The drop in prices is the equivalent of a loss of over €100 million to the Irish beef sector,” he added.

For every 5c drop in the price of cattle you are talking about the equivalent of €20/head.

“For beef farmers Brexit is very much in the here and now; I have been involved closely with beef farmers for most of my life and I have never seen such despair in the beef sector as I see at the moment.”

Healy went on to point out that the organisation has met with both EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed to discuss matters further.

“Farmers can’t be expected to carry the burden for something that they have no control over or were part of,” he continued.

“The EU Commission can’t expect farmers in countries who are loyal to the EU to be left worse off than a country that makes the decision to leave the EU.

“We have sought an emergency support package and if I am honest that €100 million loss in the beef sector is probably a conservative estimate of the actual losses being incurred.”

‘Carrot rather than stick approach’

Meanwhile, with regard to climate change and the environment, Healy said that it was very important for the carrot rather than the stick approach to be utilised in this case.

He pointed out that IFA has been “very clear” about the importance of CAP being funded adequately to take account of inflation and the additional requirements for farmers in terms of quality and production.

Irish farmers can embrace the whole climate challenge given our efficiencies and pasture type of farming.

Healy continued: “We have already proved our ability to reduce carbon emissions by 10% and reduce costs on farms by approximately €7,000.

“What we need now is a whole-government approach to this; farmers have already shown the willingness to deal with the matter and all that’s needed now is for the infrastructure and supports to be put in place.”

He went on to say that it was “an easy out” for people to say that agriculture is responsible for one-third of the emissions here in Ireland.

We are an agricultural country and we don’t have the heavy industry and car manufacturing that other countries have.

Healy continued: “The EU has highlighted that Ireland is the most carbon efficient producer of dairy products and in the top five when it comes to beef production.”

He then pointed out that climate change wasn’t just an Irish issue.

“It is a global issue and there is a growing demand for beef and dairy all over the world; we have a carbon efficient model of production here and it is also recognised as that,” the IFA president added.

“IFA is asking its members to vote for the people who are willing to fight on their backs for Irish farmers and those who are aware of Irish agriculture when the elections come round.”