The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association says many of their members are worried that CAP reform implies savage cuts to their Single Payment.
ICSA has held CAP reform briefings in every county, and their first of a series of regional CAP seminars took place recently in Athy, Co Kildare, where MEPs, TDs and farmers debated the reform proposals.
ICSA are working with MEPs on amendments to the EU parliament position, says the association’s president, Gabriel Gilmartin.
* What are ICSA’s basic objectives in CAP reform?
>> To reject the concept of a flat rate payment by 2019.
To minimise cuts to the current rate, which could apply to farmers with relatively modest but above average payments.
To focus on targeted increases for young and active farmers.
To avoid any return to the coupled payments which were instrumental in keeping cattle and sheep prices low in the past.
For cattle and sheep farmers, where direct payments consistently represent more than family farm income, and with farm debt levels at €1.8bn, a radical reform, meaning big cuts in a short time frame, would be disastrous.
It is simply not on to say that a farmer with a €20,000 single payment (for example, €400/ha on 50 hectares) should be cut by 33%, which is what could happen unless the proposals by EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos are changed.
But ICSA is also conscious of farmers who deserve an increase in payments. Our sheep farmer survey found 27% of respondents are unhappy with the direct payments system.
That’s why ICSA wants to see a targeted increase in CAP direct payments to productive cattle and sheep farmers with below average payments, as well as special provision for young farmers.
But a flat rate increase to every land-owner, even those who own large tracts of land but produce little, is neither efficient nor fair, if it implies cutting active farmers.
* What is ICSA’s overall strategy on how best to influence the CAP reform outcome?
>>The key for ICSA is to engage on a continuing basis at all levels.
For example, ICSA attended the launch in Brussels of the legislative proposals by Commissioner Ciolos in 2011 and the rapporteurs’ reports including the Capoulas Santos reports in June; has had various meetings with key EU Commission officials and several exchanges of views with Commissioner Ciolos, and ongoing work with key Department of Agriculture officials.
We began our lobbying on CAP reform in Brussels back in 2010 with a number of position papers. Recently, Minister Coveney attended the ICSA national executive for an exchange of views.
CAP reform is complex, especially with 27 member states, compared to 15 for the Fischler reform, and these 27 have much more diverse objectives. You also have to understand the EU parliament now has co-decision, whereas before it only had the right to give its view.
That’s why we are working with MEPs on amendments to the EU parliament position.
Proposing amendments to a document is not endorsing it, but it would be naïve and reckless to pretend that the EU parliament position on CAP reform can be ignored.
For example, one ICSA amendment has the potential to save a farmer who currently has a payment of €600/ha about €150/ha on every hectare.
* When will ICSA know how successful its amendments to a European Parliament report on CAP reform are?
>>It will be the autumn before the amendments are agreed at EU parliament level. Our plan is to continue to work with MEPs to get as much change as we can.
* How did ICSA arrive at its proposed ceiling of €150,000 on single farm payments?
>>It’s a logical conclusion from our policy of helping active and progressive farmers, including young farmers, who have low payments.
While we are against the sledgehammer approach of the flat rate payment, we do need to find some additional funds to help those with the lowest payments.
While the money saved is not substantial, there is no fairness in cutting ordinary farmers with above average payments per hectare, while continuing to pay meat factories, etc, huge single farm payments that are meant to make ordinary family farms viable.
However, you don’t want to overdo the ceiling either, as the active beef farmer with a single payment, of say €70,000, tends to use that to buy weanlings at the mart, and his single payment ends up benefiting a lot of small suckler farmers. Take it away from him, and you reduce competition at the ringside, and that’s no good for anyone.
It’s a delicate balancing act to get your CAP reform policy right — but a suggestion in last week’s Irish Examiner Farming that a ceiling of €150,000 would have a knock on effect on the man with €75,000 is wrong.
* A cut of 10% is proposed in the EU budget (from 1.1% to 1% of EU gross product). ICSA has been accused of accepting the need to reduce EU and CAP budgets. Is that true?
>>No. Engaging with the discussions at EU level does not mean that you accept any diminution of the budget. However, we don’t accept that we should opt out altogether just because we disagree.
That’s why ICSA has requested an urgent meeting with the Taoiseach, in order to press home the need for the EU heads of state to agree on the MFF (EU budget for 2014-2020) ASAP.
Of course, there are countries that want to see the budget trimmed but ICSA is working to ensure the Taoiseach prioritises a successful resolution to the stalled budget talks.
* Do you oppose limiting farmers’ right to switch from grass to tillage?
>>Absolutely. However, the Commission wants to impose a limit of 5%, and ICSA is proposing an amendment, which would have the effect of keeping us exempt from this, without alienating 26 other member states.
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