It’s decision time on CAP

COMMENT: Decision time regarding the full implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) measures is fast approaching.

It always helps to start these processes with a final end game in mind which, in this context, must be the assurance that the support available goes to those farmers ‘actively’ producing food. Only in this way will the targets laid down within the Harvest 2020 report be achieved.

In terms of fine tuning Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney must take the following criteria into consideration: the need to facilitate the requirements of young farmers and the absolute importance of maintaining suckler cow numbers in Ireland.

Let me take the latter point first. The idea that we can allow suckler cow numbers to haemorrhage away, on the back of ongoing non-profitability within that sector, and expect an expanded  milk industry to cover the beef shortfall is absolute folly.

In the first instance the increased cow yields that will be achieved  post the ending of quotas will ensure that the number of additional dairy cows actually required to meet Ireland’s   Harvest 2020 milk targets may well be considerably less than the number of suckler cows lost, if the beef sector is not in some way ‘ring fenced’.

And then there is the issue of quality beef. The reality remains that the European beef markets pay on the basis of carcass shape. And it is only the progeny form suckler cows that can deliver these types of carcases. So what’s to be done?

In my opinion Minister Coveney will have no option but to re-introduce some form of headage, or coupled payment, on suckler cows. Reports from the UK last week indicate that Scotland is pushing to have up to 10 per cent of its Pillar 1 budge ring fenced for re-coupling measures. I see no reason why Ireland cannot take a similar option.

The challenge of encouraging young people – under the age of 30 years – to follow a career in farming goes to the very heart of the dilemma which Irish agriculture finds itself in at the present time. The industry has already lost one and possibly two generations of ‘new blood’ on the back of an atrocious image problem.

Over the past 30 years, or so, young people have been, quite rightly saying to themselves: why should I work within an industry that can only offer me long hours, poor pay in the hope that I might take over the family business when I am in my late 40s?

To be fair, Coveney cannot wave a magic wand and come up with the ‘silver bullet’ solution to these challenges courtesy of the upcoming CAP Reform. This matter will require the active input of most Irish Government departments. However, the Agriculture Minister can signal Government’s intention to proactively tackle this issue by making the needs of young farmers a central pillar of his CAP policy measures moving forward.

Pictured Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney