Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Department of Agriculture and Food
Farm Retirement Scheme
Question 305: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food the recommendations of the Report on the Operation of the Scheme of Early Retirement from Farming prepared for the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food which she is in favour of implementing; if she has raised relevant issues in relation to its implementation with the relevant EU authorities; if so, the outcome of these discussions; and when she plans to implement the said recommendations within that report. [31178/06]
The Joint Oireachtas Committee published its report in February 2005. The report dealt with a range of issues and I responded in detail to it in September 2005.
In line with the Joint Committee's recommendations, I have recently increased the off-farm income limit for transferees in the current Scheme from €25,400 to €40,000 and have abolished the income limit for transferors. The Committee made certain other recommendations, some of which are still under consideration.
The Committee paid particular attention to two further issues. One was the implication of decoupling for retired farmers who had leased out land and quota to transferees before or during the Single Payment Scheme reference period. I believe we secured the best deal that we could for people in this situation, in spite of the fact that the Commission were unsympathetic at the outset. A specific mandatory category was included in the National Reserve arrangements under the Single Payment Scheme. This category caters for farmers who inherited or otherwise received a holding free of charge or for a nominal amount from a farmer who retired or died before 16 May 2005 where the land in question was leased out to a third party during the reference period.
Under these arrangements, where a farm reverted to the retired farmer at the end of a lease without any entitlements, a family member taking it over will have access to the National Reserve. Retired farmers in the current Scheme who farmed during part or all of the reference period and who hold Single Payment entitlements could activate entitlements and lease them to their transferees. If the transferee did not wish to use the entitlements, a transferor has until 2007 to lease the entitlements with land to another farmer. Once at least 80% of the entitlements have been used by the lessee, the transferor has the option to sell the entitlements with or without land; otherwise he can continue to lease the entitlements with land.
The second issue the Joint Committee focused on was the levels of payment under the two Schemes. In the course of discussions on this issue, the European Commission has pointed out that the rate in the earlier Scheme was set at the maximum amount for co-funding that the Regulation allowed, and that it would not be possible to secure co-funding for an increase in the rate of pension for existing participants in the current Scheme.