Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations: Discussion

Mr. Pat McCormack:

Mr. Enright, our general secretary, and I are delighted to be here. The challenges facing Irish agriculture are unprecedented challenges. In tandem, CAP reform is putting more and more bureaucracy ahead of farmers and EU funding has been cut. We have had various discussions with Department officials - the Chair mentioned names - in autumn 2020 and throughout this year in which they said there was not a cut. However, there is a cut. The reality is that there will be a cut of approximately 2% to the single farm payment this year.

That, in effect, is a cut. Farmers have been asked to do significantly more for less. There is a huge aspiration, from an environmental point of view, to deliver more to the European taxpayer for less. I will go through that in more detail.

I agree with Mr. Cullinan that the definition of "genuine farmer" needs to be addressed. Funding needs to go to the people who work the land, depend on it and keep it in good faith. When we take everything into consideration commercial farmers could face a cut of anything between 40% and 50% to their single farm payment between one or other linear cut and convergence.

Convergence is a pet topic of mine. We represent the family farm structure and much of that structure is on small and medium-sized holdings. The aspiration to flatten the payments and make all people equal under convergence is great. The reality, however, is that will not happen without giving consideration to the overall envelope the farmer has.

We saw in the previous round under convergence that the target was at 75%. Small holdings and efficient holdings - they had to be efficient and have a decent output to exist - suffered substantial losses. I am not talking about people with huge single farm payments but people with single farm payments of between €8,000 and €16,000. They found themselves substantially penalised under convergence. They were infuriated, it is fair to say, when they found out that some of the beneficiaries had multiples of a single farm payment. We need the Minister to continue to hold tough on the 75% figure. We cannot allow it to go any further.

There is a lot of talk among politicians and bureaucrats, at home and in Brussels, that front-loading has the potential to address these issues for farmers. We need to get a strong and deep analysis of that going forward because it may not be the case. We need far more information and research done on front-loading and the beneficiaries.

As regards capping, the ICMSA strongly supports the €60,000 cap, with no frills or ribbons. It is very simple to implement. From a genuine farmer perspective, it is not that long ago that we sat at similar forums, and perhaps the same forum, albeit physically rather than remotely, when we were trying to define the "active farmer". Europe has failed on the active farmer. As a generation of farmers, farm leaders and politicians, we cannot afford to fail as regards the genuine farmer. It is imperative that the genuine farmer is defined and that he or she is the person who is working the land and who needs the support.

In our submission, the ICMSA proposes a minimum stock on density. We are not talking about an over-elaborate measure. In excess of 5,000 farmers are not keeping three cows on 50 acres. How genuine are those farmers? That is very questionable. We need to see some mechanisms put in place to preserve agricultural activity. Where that does not happen, questions need to be asked about the continuation of entitlements and the continuation of benefits under convergence.

Conditionality is a new concept. It is not long since we used to travel to Brussels to meet the then European Commissioner, who happened to be from the island of Ireland. The issue then was simplification. Now, it is about conditionality. We seem to see more and more conditions, by which I mean environmental and various other aspirations as we move forward. With less funding available, and at a time when farmers are becoming the scapegoats for many things in this country, we need to discuss conditionality with the Department in earnest, including its implementation and tolerance of it among the farm organisations. We need to see that around the CAP reform.

Mr. Cullinan alluded to the eco-scheme, which will be cut, potentially, by between 20% or 30%. The likelihood is it will be either 25% or 30%. We saw under greening in the previous round of CAP that if a farmer grew grass, he or she was green. In the same way, we need to have the minimum of implications at farm level for farmers to be involved in an eco-scheme as we move forward. The ICSMA believes that hedgerow management can play a significant part in eco-schemes going forward. The last thing we want is to undermine any environmental scheme that will come through in Pillar 2.

As regards Pillar 2 and interventions, we need to see an agri-environment scheme that is attractive to commercial farmers and all other farmers, with a significant increase in payment. A payment of approximately €10,000 would make it a meaningful scheme. It is absolutely imperative that generational renewal is part of Pillar 2. While we may need to look after our young farmers, the greatest tool to make land available to young farmers is to look after our older farmers. We have seen that in the past with various retirement schemes.

It was extremely disappointing to read the Department's targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, proposals, where dairy investment schemes would not be eligible under TAMS moving forward. We talk about environmental aspirations and reducing the energy usage. It is absolutely imperative that these new modern technologies, whether it is electronic milk pumps or efficient cooling systems, are in place.

From a carbon footprint point of view, the dairy calf and beef scheme is the most efficient type of beef production on this island. We need to see the aspirations in the previous budget beefed up under Pillar 2.

While milk prices might be at 34 cent or 35 cent per litre now, we cannot afford to forget the rainy days we had in the past. We need to have emergency price supports in place as we move forward.