Wednesday, 17 January 2018
I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House and compliment him on the good work he is doing in the Department.
I would like him to include cattle passes in the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS II, which was launched in 2015 with a budget of almost €400 million. We are half way through that programme and farmers have shown significant interest in it. To date almost 12,000 farmers have applied to the scheme which is positive because the scheme helps them modernise.
Half way through TAMS II, however, only 10% of the money has been drawn down. There are many applications in the system. I have asked before that we expand it by including generators but today I want it to be expanded to include cattle passes. Farmers on fragmented farm holdings, some in dairy, which have expanded, have unfortunately seen large numbers of animals cross roads, main roads and by-roads. It is dangerous. It is also a drain on manpower if a herd is crossing a road. Labour is a problem on farms. We have a real commitment and vision in the food policy, Food 2025. There has been a large increase in the volume produced on dairy farms in recent years. A step towards helping these farmers modernise their systems would be to expand TAMS II to include cattle passes, which would in turn help with labour and health and safety problems.
I thank Senator Lombard for raising this matter and welcome the opportunity to outline the current position regarding TAMS II.
During 2015, a suite of six measures was announced under TAMS II. These measures were launched under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 and are co-funded under the European agricultural fund for rural development, EAFRD. The measures provide grants for capital investment in physical assets to assist the Irish agriculture sector to respond to a range of policy challenges. The six measures initially launched were: the young farmers capital investment scheme; the dairy equipment scheme; the organic capital investment scheme; the animal welfare, safety and nutrient storage scheme; the low emission slurry spreading scheme; and the pig and poultry investment scheme. The objectives of the scheme include enabling growth and competitiveness in the sector, addressing environmental and climate change issues, supporting the increased efficiency of holdings and improving animal health and welfare. In addition to these objectives, the young farmer capital investment scheme aims to address one of the key structural issues in the sector by specifically targeting support at young trained farmers, offering them a higher rate of grant aid at 60%, compared to the standard rate of 40%.
In March of last year an additional measure, the tillage capital investment scheme, was added to the list of measures. One of the objectives of this scheme is to facilitate the tillage sector to develop a targeted and precise approach, focusing on environmental dividends, efficiency and growth. There is a huge variety of items available under the suite of seven targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, measures.
In all measures, applications and payment claims must be made online, either by the farmer or by an advisor authorised to act on the farmer's behalf. The final allocation in respect of TAMS II for the full rural development programme will be in the region of €395 million. In order to encourage the drawdown of funding, provide increased budget certainty and ensure that all farmers can avail of funding over the entire period of the rural development programme, from the sixth tranche onward the length of time in which to undertake the works approved was reduced from the three-year period in previous tranches to six months for mobile equipment and 12 months for fixed building works. The period for the completion of works approved or to be approved under previous tranches remains unchanged. I am delighted that the scheme has proved to be so popular with Irish farmers, with more than 15,500 applications submitted to date. Of these, more than 12,500, 80% of the total, have been approved to commence work.
The figures are much lower where payment claims are concerned. It is open to approved applicants to submit an online payment claim as soon as they are in a position to do so. Within the approved deadline, the timing of the submission of a payment claim is entirely a matter for individual farmers, and when they carry out the approved works is up to them. To date, just 3,500 payment claims have been submitted. The Department has actively encouraged all approved applicants to submit payment claims, including by contacting approved applicants individually by text message. I would urge all approved applicants who have completed their works to submit a payment claim as soon as they are in a position to do so.
To date, payments have issued in more than 2,600 cases, amounting to a total of more than €36.5 million. All payment claims are examined and paid as soon as possible after they have been submitted. Where any issue arises with a payment claim, the applicant concerned is contacted directly by the Department to resolve outstanding issues. All 12,500 approvals issued represent potential outstanding liabilities for the Department. Until these approvals mature to payment stage, or the timeframe of the approval expires, a budgetary provision must be available to make payments. Until the budgetary position becomes clearer, it is not possible to consider adding additional items, including cattle underpasses, to the comprehensive list of investment items already available under the suite of seven TAMS II measures. It is not proposed, therefore, to add any additional items at this time.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response and for the update on the TAMS scheme. He is right in saying that it is a very important scheme, and the uptake among farmers, with more than 12,500 applying, is very much welcomed. Again, it comes down to the payment and the actual payment scheme. In many ways it is in the farmers' hands. They must move the projects forward and trigger the payment. When will the Minister have an indication of whether there will be money left over from the scheme? Does he know a date on which these applications will mature and will not be drawn down? I expect that a cohort of applications in the system will not be drawn down.
Do we know the date on which this cohort will fall off the system? We might then know when the funds assigned to them would be made available, and thus be able to extend the scheme to cattle passes or even agricultural generators. I know it is an issue of timing, and I appreciate that the Minister is under pressure, but it is important that at some point we get a budgetary figure and amend it appropriately.
I thank Senator Lombard. The scheme is extremely attractive and successful, not least because of the level of grant aid, but also because of the range of projects covered under it, which are myriad across a number of sectors in agriculture.A total of 15,500 applications have been made under it. Some 12,500 applications have been approved but in only in the region of 2,500 of those approved have payments been claimed. The problem for the Department is getting certainty around the intentions of those who have approvals outstanding but where no claims have been submitted. We have applied a time limit to more recent tranches of applications whereby an applicant has a six month period for an application for mobile equipment and a 12 month approval period for buildings.
The unfortunate reality for a substantial number of applications prior to that stage is that they have had a three year approval process and that three year process has not begun to expire yet. It is probable that a number of those approvals will not proceed. Currently, they may be resubmitted at a later stage but it makes it difficult to consider at this point in time whether there is sufficient head room to consider other items under the rural development programme and the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS. There is no shortage of asks.
I appreciate the points the Senator has raised here and with me privately about underpasses. I accept the principle of the point made, namely, that the absence of underpasses makes it difficult to farm fragmented holdings, particularly dairy holdings where crossing busy roads multiple times each day is necessary.
There is no shortage of asks in respect of TAMS. The Deputy also mentioned generators and that is another area where there is interest. The list of asks is very long but until we get greater financial certainty around what are the intentions of numerous approved applicants whose applications are timed to expire as this year progresses, we will not have sufficient clarity as to what head room is available.