CAP Pillar I agreed, but more ‘battles’ to come
The breakthrough in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) negotiations last Friday, with a commitment to frontload redistribution of at least 10% in Pillar I funding to smaller farms, has been widely welcomed. But there remains other elements that still rankle onlookers, whose attentions now shift to how the new eco-schemes will be borne out, and how the co-financing rates for Pillar II will apply.
Last week’s deal ended a near three-year struggle to decide how approximately a third of the EU’s 2021-2027 budget (€387bn) will be spent. Those sanctioning the newly approved plan believe they’re on course to deliver a “greener and fairer” CAP system going forward.
Cavan-Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy though considers the new measures reached, particularly in relation to redistribution, as representing only the “minimum” of what can ultimately be achieved.
He’s now urging the Irish government to use the “flexibility” so fought for by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, to be utilised for the benefit of all small farm families in Ireland.
The headline grabbing agreed minimum 85% convergence, 10% front-loading, and €100,000 upper limit payment each represent progress, accepts the Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Agriculture in the Dáil.
But Deputy Carthy argues, that even before Minister McConalogue travelled to meet fellow EU agri leaders in Luxembourg, the hand the government cast placed it very much “at odds” with the best interests of farmers.
The attempt, he claimed, to maintain a perceived “status quo” went so far as to “undermine” the CAP process entirely.
“It’s very hard to argue CAP is there to support small farmers when at the same time you’re opposing measures that would see family farms get extra money,” he fumed.
The front-loading of payments, Deputy Carthy feels, should be increased to 20%.
He remarks too that Sinn Féin’s position has always been to end to “inequality” by supporting measures to bring all direct payments below the national average up to within 85%. The new deal allows member states to increase their own level of internal convergence higher if so wished. Member states may also introduce a €100,000 cap on direct payments, though there is room for so-called “disregards” for farms big enough to employ staff, and/or a 15% reduction for payments of over €60,000.
According to some, more than 70,000 farmers nationally – or some 60% of direct payment beneficiaries – stand to positively benefit from full convergence.
For the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), what has been brokered so far “will see farmers do more for less”.
Organisation President, Dermot Kelleher, says the key issues around convergence to even out the redistribution to support smaller farmers “reflect the fact that the budget is inadequate”.
“Many farmers will become even less viable due to direct payment cuts and will then be expected to devote many more hours to delivering public goods in the climate change and biodiversity spheres,” Mr Kelleher predicts.
IFA Cavan Chair Elizabeth Ormiston is stern when stating that she’s “not against” convergence as a whole. It’s an accusation she’s aware has been bandied behind her back the longer the debate surrounding CAP Pillar I went on.
“I’m against the image being portrayed. There are farmers to gain notorious money over this, a lot of them bigger farmers. There’s a perception the small farmer is gaining. He’ll gain to an extent with redistribution. That’ll be a fixed amount, and that’s where our government have flexibility to boost up the wee fellow.”
But she explains how 10% front-loading “won’t stretch far” where the average payment in Cavan comes in at just around €7,300.
“It sounds great, but what we needed was additional funding, instead of taking money out of an already over-stretched pot to fund it.”
Ms Ormiston says it’s the “value of the entitlement” that will ultimately come into play.
“A lot of people don’t seem to get that. You could be getting €50-60,000, have poor entitlements, and now be getting a rise. Then you could be getting €7,000, have big entitlements worth €400 and you’ll be brought down eventually to €260, the average around Europe.”
She feels therefore that Europe’s agri chiefs should have dealt with the issue of convergence when it first reared its head as far back as 2013, instead of simply “kicking the can” down the line. “The can is here now. It can’t be kicked any longer.”
Ms Ormiston is “wary” meanwhile of the proposal to ring-fence a portion of direct payments to fund eco-schemes, which as yet, have not been defined to any great detail. The deal would require countries to spend 20% of payments to farmers from 2023-2024, rising to 25% of payments between 2025-2027.
“It feels like convergence under another name really,” says Ms Ormiston who, like Deputy Carthy, is seeking “flexibility” in that if uptake is not as high as expected, the Pillar I funds diverted would not go unused.
“We need those flexibilities, and more of them,” says the Cavan IFA chair, who asks that the Irish Government back their own commitment to Pillar II by co-financing the scheme to a maximum 57%.
Such a measure, Ms Ormiston says, is “paramount” to help sustain sectors such as beef, where she says a near doubling of the current subsidy for suckler cows is required.
Having met Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith alongside IFA colleague Maurice Brady at the weekend, she too hopes to see delivery on a commitment enshrined in the Programme for Government that will see €1.5bn from the carbon tax repurposed as a REPS-2 programme.
“We need to get €300. At the moment, between all the bits and pieces, it sits around €160 or €170. It’s all fine and dandy now because all the sectors are paying well. But it is needed to maintain the family farm.”
Deputy Carthy, for his part, would like to see an eventual move away from the “entitlement” process completely in the coming years.
He also believes the next key area for attention is Pillar II.
“That’s your Leader programme, your Glas scheme, your new REP schemes, and we’d be looking that the Irish government maximise the co-financing for that, therefore ensuring there are schemes directed towards the most vulnerable sectors, suck as suckler and sheep. Towards organics, which are very important, but where to date there has been very poor ambition. So that’s the next battle.”