Macra seeks meeting with Donohoe over €70,000 relief cap

A meeting has been sought with Minster for Finance and Public Expenditure, Paschal Donohoe, by Macra na Feirme following the announcement of a cap to young farmer reliefs in Budget 2019, Macra president James Healy has said.

Healy was speaking to presenter Claire Mc Cormack on the latest episode of FarmLand about the decision to put a cap of €70,000 on a number of initiatives for young farmers.

This, the national president of Macra na Feirme contended, would have a negative impact on the numbers of young people getting into farming.

Healy explained that Minister Donohoe had initially outlined that the Young Farmer Stamp Duty Relief and the Young Farmer Stock Relief were to be extended for an additional three years to the end of 2021.

“On budget day we were very happy to hear that – it was good news for young farmers across the country,” he said.

‘Devil in the detail’

“Unfortunately the devil was in the detail when it came to the Finance Bill.

“The changes that are being proposed are that across those two schemes, and including the Successive Farm Partnership Scheme, that a cap of €70,000 would be put in place for what is essentially being called the state aid that the young farmer could benefit to that amount.”

Healy said that the move is putting a limit on what amount young farmers could avail of across the three schemes.

“While we appreciate that this limit has been in place in European legislation since 2014, I think – given the timing of where we’re at and given the age demographic of agriculture as a whole – it’s very disappointing.”

The president said that, considering the fact that it had not been introduced since 2014, he could not see the hurry in bringing in the limit this year – particularly with the present uncertainty.

He added that many young farmers that have entered business agreements based on the previous reliefs are now in an awkward position due to the move and said that a number of questions would have to be answered.

“We have a number of questions now as to how this is going to be implemented and, if you’re in the middle of a scheme, are you going to start at zero?

“Or, if you have availed of stamp duty last year, are you going to start at zero? Or is that going to be taken into account and are you starting from €30,000 or €40,000 depending on what you’ve done?”

There’s also some uncertainty around how much state aid is deemed to be, particularly regarding family transfers, Healy added.

‘Backward step for Irish farming’

“There’s always been a limit there on the Young Farmer Stock Relief of €70,000, so what I see this doing is essentially eliminating the value of the Young Farmer Stamp Duty Relief, which pushes the point of transfer from the older farmer to the younger farmer much further on.

“There’s no benefit to doing it now at the younger age. And, as it was, we saw that a lot of those transfers taking place at 34 and a half so that they were just coming in at the 35.

This is probably going to push a lot of those family transfers far down the line and that, from our point of view, is very disappointing; it just pushes back the point at which young farmers are being given the responsibility to take control and have a say in running the farm.

The president asserted that the younger a young farmer can get their hands on the reins and have a sense of responsibility for the farm, then the more enthusiastic, the more driven they are going to be.

“This is a backward step for Irish farming.”

Regarding his organisation’s requests for a meeting with Minister Donohoe, Healy remained hopeful.

“I checked before I came in and we haven’t heard anything as of yet. We’re hoping; we’re going to keep pushing and knocking on the door, because I think this is an issue that needs to be put before the minister.

“We do need to show him the impact that this will have on young farmers – particularly at this time of uncertainty and there needs to be a delay put on these changes to get over the hump that Brexit is going to create.

At this point, we don’t even know if there is going to be a deal; that could lead to catastrophic results for agriculture.

Asked whether the young farmer voice is being heard loud enough in Leinster House, Healy said that that remained to be seen.

“I think the results of whether we get a meeting and hopefully some changes that come out of this will be the telling of that tale.

“To be fair to the minister and the Government, they’ve always been willing to meet with us, willing to listen to our arguments and I think the changes and reliefs that are in place are a positive step for young farmers.

“But I think we’re probably coming to the crunch now and we’ll see how much they’re truly willing to listen to the voice of the young farmer.”