Payments and petitions: Are farmers getting their message across?

Risk management, income stabilisation and effective agricultural lobbying were key talking points for EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan at a recent meeting he attended in Co. Kildare.

Commissioner Hogan was the key-note speaker at Bank of Ireland’s agri outlook seminar for farming families in Newbridge, on Monday evening, July 23.

The commissioner covered a wide range of topics, particularly during a question and answer session held with the gathered audience of local farmers from counties Kildare, Carlow and Kilkenny.

Income stabilisation

During the questions, the topic of income stabilisation came to the fore.

Commenting on this, the commissioner gave an update to the assembled farmers as to the work currently ongoing in Brussels.

He said: “At the moment we have put through some legislation which meant that [originally], in an income stabilisation tool situation where if your product price went down in the marketplace by 30%, you can invoke rural development measures to help a farmer to be able to get some additional income to be able to make up for the loss.

“That’s now reduced to 20%.”

However, the commissioner noted that the problem with this is that it is too slow for farmers in difficulty in 2018 for example, who would have to wait until 2019 to get paid, causing potential issues with debts and cash-flow.

Continuing, he said: “So how can we improve the speed of the process and develop risk management tools that will help farmers get a response more quickly and more easily than they have today through difficult times?

“Some of it is soft loans and more of it is financial supports through Pillar II.

“But, there’s a trigger mechanism that we’ve just agreed on in legislative terms – but I’m still not happy with it on the basis that it’s not getting that particular response within the same calendar year, at least to the farmers that need it.”

Lobbying

The topic of increasingly strict regulations causing the “loss of technologies and chemistries” was also highlighted by a farmer from the audience.

To this, the commissioner said: “I think one of the great challenges is plant protection policy and the issue you mentioned.

“This is the biggest attack on agriculture, especially for tillage farmers and arable farmers generally; and this is not going away as a difficult societal issue.

And the manner in which we’re managing to put the farmers’ case in this, we’re not succeeding.

“I could get 1.4 million signatures from environmental organisations that will ban glyphosate; and get a letter from the farm organisation that represents everyone in Europe.

“You have to look at your strategy as farmers in terms of how you deal with difficult issues such as these; the petition system is actually more effective when convincing members of the European Parliament that there’s a problem.

So I would say to the Irish farming organisations: Look carefully at the way in which your strategy is working; and I’m thinking this should be at European level.

“Copa-Cogeca has a list of all the membership of every farming organisation; does it use it effectively and well? No. Should it use it effectively and well? Yes – but you have a role to play in discussing this issue.

“I’ve tried to discuss this issue with Copa-Cogeca in Brussels, the umbrella body for all farmers. I’m not so sure it’s listening.”

Alternatives to glyphosate

Commissioner Hogan said: “Now we are putting more money into researching alternatives [to lost technologies].

Addressing the matter of glyphosate directly, he explained: “The French started the ball rolling with glyphosate; and of course the small print in the French declaration was ‘we’ll ban glyphosate – provided we get alternatives’.

But no one sees the small print; everyone in society in France, and farm organisations generally think ‘oh, France is going to ban glyphosate in the next few years’.

“Now, they may not, because they won’t have alternatives; it takes a good five or six years of research to get an alternative, so the European Commission has to take a lead role here; putting more money into researching alternatives, and that’s what we’re doing.

“That’s all we can do at the moment – but again it’s down to member states and it’s down to strategy,” the commissioner said.

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