Thursday, 26 September 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme
I welcome the Minister. This matter relates to the inclusion of underpasses in the targeted agriculture modernisation scheme, TAMS. The latter, which was launched in June 2015, is a unique scheme with a budget of over €400 million to fund farm investment. There are six priorities attached to the scheme and all have been very successful. However, the priorities at farm gate have changed. When the scheme was launched, one of the priorities was low emissions spreading, which at the time was not an issue for farmers but is now a key driver in terms of the changes being made on farms. There have been major changes to agricultural schemes, including a reduction in the size of dairy herds.
I raise this issue because underpasses are a key aspect of infrastructure. Many dairy farmers and fragmented holdings need to invest in underpasses to ensure they can develop their farm enterprises. This is a significant investment of a six figure sum and requires planning permission. TAMS will expire in 18 months. I am interested in hearing from the Minister if work is underway in the Department on a new scheme and, if so, if consideration will be given making provision in it for underpasses. I am not asking the Minister to change the current scheme because it is due to expire in 18 months. Rather, I am asking that the new scheme that will follow in 2020 when the current scheme expires would provide for underpasses in light of the changes in terms of farm development and the scale of farms, in particular dairy farms, since 2015. The benefits of this measure include savings in labour, increased health and safety on the roads and fragmented farms being able to reach their potential, which are key drivers of the Food Wise 2025 policy mentioned by the Minister.
I hope that a new scheme will be introduced post 2020 and that it will include provision for underpasses, which are key items of agricultural infrastructure that will save time.It would be safer for drivers and pedestrians and would increase dairy farmers' profitability.
Where does the Minister believe the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, will go? Will there be a TAMS III and, if so, could these underpasses be considered in that proposal?
I thank Senator Lombard for raising this matter and welcome the opportunity to outline the current position regarding the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS II.
TAMS II is made up of a suite of seven measures. These measures were launched under the Rural Development Programme 2014-20 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 in 2015 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; and the tillage capital investment scheme launched in 2016. Among the objectives of the scheme are to enable growth and competitiveness in the sector, addressing environmental and climate change issues, supporting the increased efficiency on holdings and improving animal health and welfare.
In addition to these objectives, the young farmers capital investment scheme aims to address one of the key structural issues in the sector by specifically targeting support at young trained farmers by offering them a higher rate of grant aid of 60% compared to the standard rate of 40%. There is a huge variety of items available under the suite of seven TAMS measures. Under all measures, applications and payment claims must be made online, either by the farmer or by an adviser authorised to act on their behalf.
The financial allocation in respect of TAMS for the full rural development programme period will be in the region of €395 million. To date total expenditure, including transitional expenditure, has reached €169 million and we continue to pay approximately €1.5 million every week. I am delighted that the scheme has proved to be so popular with Irish farmers with over 29,000 applications submitted to date. Of these more than 22,000 or over 75% have been approved to commence work.
It is open to approved applicants to submit an online payment claim as soon as they are in a position to do so. The timing of the submission of a payment claim, within the approved deadline, is entirely a matter for the individual farmer and it is up to them when they complete their approved works. To date, 11,500 payment claims have been submitted and over 92% have been paid. 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. The position is that all outstanding approvals issued represent potential outstanding liabilities for my Department and we must have a budget in place to pay these claims. Until these approvals mature to payment stage, or the timefrarne of the approval expires, a budgetary provision must be available to make payments. In order to ensure the annual budget for TAMS can cover all potential outstanding liabilities it has been necessary to roll some 20% of approvals forward from tranche 13 into tranche 14 and from tranche 14 into tranche 15. I recognise that this may be disappointing for the farmers concerned who wish to commence works to improve their holdings.
Due to the tight annual budgetary position on TAMS, it is not possible to consider adding items, including cattle underpasses, to the comprehensive list of investment items already available under the suite of seven TAMS II measures. I acknowledge that particularly in the dairy sector there is an issue with regard to the daily management of dairy farms which are fragmented and particularly where the cattle are crossing busy national primary roads.
There is intense consideration of the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and what schemes might be considered within that. Whether underpasses will be considered there has been very significant commitment to the dairy sector under TAMS. Of the six pillars of TAMS II dairy has probably resulted in the highest number of applications and the highest level of payments. Through successive provisions in annual budgets there has been an incentive in the tax code for consolidation of farm holdings. That does not always arise as an opportunity for those managing those holdings, particularly on the dairy side but it is a recognition that there is a problem. I do not wish at this stage to say what will or could be part of a future CAP or rural development programme. Whereas this is a niche issue for a few it is significant for them.
I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive response. It is probably not an issue for TAMS II but it is one that we have to consider in the future. When TAMS was announced in 2015 the low emissions spreading was not taken up by farmers but it is the biggest issue they talk about at the farm gate now. It is amazing how priorities change over the lifetime of a scheme. I am sure the new scheme will have different priorities and maybe when they are being considered there might be an opportunity to consider this.
I do not wish to be prescriptive or to tie the hands of whoever might ultimately decide these matters but there will be a consultation process. There are other parties and authorities who have a role in respect of cattle underpasses. Apart from the farmers there are the local authorities where it might be regarded as a public safety issue for road users. We are aware of this but there has been very substantial support available under TAMS for the dairy sector. I am conscious of the competing interests such as the pig and poultry sector and that the next iteration of CAP will be on climate action measures. That will be the challenge in getting an adequate budget because there can be all the wish lists we may have and there is no shortage of requests, for example even the sport horse sector provides an opportunity for farmers to diversify because we are internationally recognised as a successful producer of sport horses. These issues will be considered when a new rural development is put together.