Macra na Feirme hosted a lively debate, entitled ‘New Cap, New Era’ this evening at its annual National Conference in Carlow.

Among the main keynote speakers were MEP Mairead McGuinness, Prof Alan Renwick of University College Dublin and Agriculture Consultants Association President Michael Brady, who spoke to a packed audience of 350 young farmers.

First to speak was MEP Mairead McGuinness who outlined the achievements of a top-up payment for young farmers in the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

“Macra na Feirme embraced the European challenge. You have joined the European young farmer association and it has paid dividends. You worked extremely well and effectively on CAP Reform and we delivered. The original proposal was a 25 per cent of the basic payment, which would be considerably less than the total payment, because the total payment is the basic plus the 30 per cent for environmental delivery but we got it as 25 per cent of the total payment to make it worthwhile and it is delivered,” she said.

“I don’t think it is going to make young farmers rich, but it is an important signal that Europe knows its importance and to give an additional payment to allow young farmers to get involved into the future,” the MEP added.

In addition, McGuinness stressed the importance of CAP payments  and its link to public goods. “Some 30 per cent of the payment is for public goods delivery. This is not discussed in Ireland at all, but it will be. And if that continues you could see the next CAP Reform focus on more delivery of goods. But the key point is what you do inside the farm gate. I’m a fan of well-hung gates so whatever you do, do it well. It’s a small point but a key point. Do the small things well and you will deliver on the larger scale.”

The MEP also spoke on efficiency, its key to profitability; and better relationships between processors and suppliers; and sustainability. In terms of market price volatility, she said this is being examined at a political European and national level. “There is too much acceptance that there will be volatility, because there is. I think we need to ask why there is volatility and we need to manage it better,” she added.


Next to speak was President of the Agricultural Consultants Association, Michael Brady. “Question why you are here today and where you will be in 20 years time,” he said.

“CAP is not going to change the world, despite all the hype, talks and negotiations. CAP is not going to be hugely different than it was for the last number of years. What is really changed, is that you are free to farm. The world is a very big place. Some of you are already farmers, you have taken up the family farm, some of you are full-time, some part-time. But also are working in ancillary industries. And finally some of you are here for the weekend and are starting to get interested in farming and that’s brave to make that type of decision.”

Brady outlined some of the biggest challenges facing young farmers today, lack of profitability in beef, sheep and tillage enterprises; difficulty in entering dairy farming; lack of land mobility; increased retirement expectations of parents; and protection of the status quo by farm organisations.

He stressed the importance of SWOT analysis, strength, weakness, opportunities and threats and urged every young farmer to undertake such an analysis.

The strength of young farmers is that you are free and fearless, he said. “We are well served with advisors. Everyone of you are bright…you are better qualified than advisors in Africa and Asia. You need to appreciate the knowledge you have and the biggest thing you have to spend is time and you have buckets of it.”

In terms of weakness, Brady said young farmers were easily influenced. “Who should I follow, who should I believe? You need to be aware of this.” He said decoupling has allowed farmers to compete on the global scale. “If you are a top operator and you are ambitious, the world is your oyster.”

In terms of CAP he stressed to young farmers present to look outside subsidies. “Let’s not ask why we are getting subsidies, take the cheque and look outside the equation, look at your business without subsidies.”

In terms of land mobility, Brady said it is always coming from the young farmer  perspective, tax reliefs, partnerships. “They are all geared on how to get older farmers off the land. What you are not realising is they are the farmers that have the bloody land. So you have to put yourself in to their shoes and say, why are they not releasing their land. To me the two primary emotions are pride and fear.”

The ACA President said a new approach is needed to ensure the older farmer is guaranteed payment and also a business plan is key. “So he knows exactly what you are going to do and you know exactly what he requires. And you should treat his land as you should treat your own, whether this is lease, partnership or joint venture. These issues are critical to the older generation.”

He outlined a further threat, he believes, to young farmers which were parents and ‘the establishment’ such as farming organisations. “Parents have to be kept in the standard they are accustomed to Lanzarote, Chelsea Flower Show or Camino of Santiago. That is modern life.” He urged young farmers to do a SWOT analysis on themselves and to plan out their future.


Next to speak was Professor of Agriculture and Food Economics Alan Renwick of University College Dublin (UCD). “We should be querying the Common Agriculture Policy as part of the problem and not as the solution. This should be asking that question,” he said. “My message is to seize the opportunities to overcome the problems. Every time we have CAP Reform, you have politicians that go into ‘us’ and ‘them’ drive. Politicians always want to be seen with the young farmer. It’s a bit like kissing babies.”

Agriculture in Ireland is a booming sector, he said. “Our agri-business is fantastic with our new higher-value markets globally, our knowledge-based industry leading in genetics and animal health. There are huge opportunities. In particular Bord Bia’s Origin Green in selling ‘brand Ireland’ is key. It’s a huge growth area and this is seen in the agriculture universities throughout Ireland and also the multimillion financial support for agriculture research centres.”

He warned that all this comes with challenges. “Some sectors are heavily reliant on support. There are questions around market volatility, challenges in the supply chain, age profiles and trade deals bring opportunities and threats.”

He warned of the “elephant in the room”. “CAP is keeping older farmers on the land but once you are in that club it is quiet attractive to keep and that is part of the problem and the thing people and organisations do not want to talk about. If you didn’t have that payment scheme you would have much more land availability here in Ireland. Single farm payments are so crucial to the industry. It is a catch-22 problem.”

The UCD Prof also noted “pride and fear issues” of older farmers. “The weight of money on the land is keeping them on the land, while we want them off to Lanzarote in December. CAP support, tax advantages all these things are keeping them on the land.

“We are pushing around the edges with young farmer top-ups, tax incentives, talk of installation aids, they are all around the edge rather than tackling the problem head-on.There is a lack of new entrants and a lack of exit farmers, so why are we targeting young farmers at all…there are no shortages of young farmers wanting to get in. It is the people getting out that is the problem. There is a counter argument out there, why are we giving money to young farmers and it is important we address that. You need to address the problem rather than add another payment in CAP,” he concluded.

The Macra na Ferime National Conference continues in Carlow.