There are few in the farming community that will not be pleased to see the back of 2016.

Brexit, income volatility, poor prices in commodity markets, bad weather and deep uncertainty are but some of the problems faced by farmers across the country over the past 12 months.

Since taking office on May 6, I have set about putting forward strategic and universally applicable solutions, to many of the challenges facing the Irish agri-food sector.

In the early weeks of my term as Minister, I set about a wide ranging consultation process with all the stakeholders associated with my portfolio.

This ‘listening exercise’ was useful in terms of identifying the priority issues and understanding the needs of the sector.

Once this process was completed the job of framing a strategy to deal with issues such as income volatility, cashflow management and unaffordable credit began in earnest.

To properly address the on-going pressures on farm incomes it became clear that a strategic approach is required which seeks to provide solutions not just for today – but that will have a sustained impact over the longer term.

Therefore in the October Budget, I announced a comprehensive set of measures which tackle head on many of the underlying issues undermining farm incomes for some time:

  • Low Cost Finance:  A €150 million SBCI agri cash flow support loan fund with an interest rate of 2.95% provides highly flexible low cost loans for Irish farmers
  • Support inside the farm gate:  Significant spending on farm gate schemes through the Rural Development programme will see €601 million go directly to farmers in 2017 including a new €25 million sheep welfare scheme, increased participation in GLAS, BDGP & TAMS on top of €1.2 billion through the Basic payment/greening measure.  Changes to Farm Assist including more favourable eligibility criteria and a €5 weekly increase, 500 extra places on the Rural Social Scheme, and extended social insurance cover for the self-employed including optical and dental cover
  • Tax Measures:  Thirdly a dynamic set of tax measures including changes to the ‘income averaging system’, a €400 increase in the ‘Earned Income Tax Credit’ and further consideration of an income stabilisation measure completes the three pillar approach to strategically tackling income volatility.

On June 23 the nature of my role as Minister took a significant turn when the UK voted to leave the EU.

Even before my arrival in the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, a significant body of work was underway in terms of scoping out the potential pitfalls of a Brexit.

Since the morning of June 24, protecting and preparing the Irish agri-food sector for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has shaped my Ministerial agenda.

To this end I have led Trade events to Vietnam, Korea, China, Singapore, Algeria, Morocco and Paris.

I have on three occasions travelled to the UK to meet with industry leaders and political figures including my UK counterpart Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom.

I am in continuous contact with my Northern Ireland counterpart Michelle McIlveen as well as my European Colleagues in the Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers.

The interwoven nature of our relationship with the UK from east to west and crucially north to south is impossible to understate. I have said on numerous occasions that there is no ‘upside’ for the Irish agri-food sector from Brexit.

However, I am confident that no stone is being left unturned in terms of our preparation for every eventuality.

To conclude I would like to thank everybody for their support in 2016.

On a personal level it has been a year to remember. A day has not passed since May 6, that I don’t greatly appreciate the honour bestowed on me as Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine.

The aim I set out with was to help to make life a bit better for everybody involved in this incredible sector. I hope I can achieve this goal into 2017 and beyond.

May you all have a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful Christmas.

Michael Creed TD

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine