Opinion

It’s time we put an end to the leasing of entitlements

The fact that landowners can lease out their entitlements is a symptom of everything that’s wrong with the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In essence, this practice represents a glaring loop-hole, providing those landowners who do not want to farm with the opportunity to still avail of CAP payments. As a consequence, it goes against the very essence of what the CAP is supposed to stand for.

That’s a good enough reason to have the practice abolished.

One of the key issues that will be debated, courtesy of the ongoing CAP reform negotiations, will be that of agreeing what constitutes an active farmer. It’s in the context of discussing this measure that steps can be taken to abolish the practice of entitlement trading.

Given that this issue will be agreed against the backdrop of a 5% reduction in the next CAP budget, there is a greater onus than ever to ensure that the support monies available from Brussels go to those farmers actually producing food.

Entitlement leasing also helps to perpetuate the tradition of conacre letting in this country.

This, in my opinion, is another reason why it should be scrapped. The conacre system goes to the heart of the problem, when one considers why so much of our land is not farmed to a proper standard.

It’s all very simple: There is no incentive for the lessee to improve the ground taken, as the agreement only lasts for 11 months.

Just think of how much additional output Irish agriculture could generate if long-term leasing arrangements could substitute for even 50% of the letting deals covered by conacre at the present time.

To its credit the Irish government agreed new tax changes that facilitate longer-term land leasing arrangements a couple of years ago. We now need more to be done in terms of promoting these options to landowners, particularly those older farmers seeking a viable retirement option.

The next CAP reform package will be one of the most challenging ever presented to the Irish farming industry.

One of the key responses from the sector to these changing circumstances must be that of putting active farmers at the very top of the industry’s priority listing.

It’s against this backdrop that the practice of leasing entitlements should become a total taboo. And the sooner this becomes reality the better.