The budget has hit farming families on the double and could force some out of business, farming bodies warned last night.
IFA president John Bryan led the criticism and said the cuts to various farming schemes such as the disadvantaged area scheme (DAS), combined with new taxes and PRSI changes, will place further pressure on farm families who have already suffered a 22% drop in their incomes this year.
“This budget represents another disproportionate and unfair hit on farm families,” he said.
“Suckler and sheep farmers have an average income of €14,000, and some of them will inevitably be forced out of business, or onto farm assist, by the decision to effectively close the suckler cow welfare scheme and cut the sheep grassland payment.”
He described Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s decision to shut down the suckler cow welfare scheme as “a major blow” to the beef sector, and criticised cuts to the DAS — an important support for low-income farmers.
He welcomed the extension of stock relief to all farm partnerships, and improvements to land mobility by addressing the restrictive capital gains tax rules for farm consolidation.
However, he said the reduction in the capital acquisitions tax threshold will act as a disincentive to farm transfer and restructuring.
ICMSA president John Comer described the budget as regressive and said farm families were effectively paying the price of the Croke Park deal.
He welcomed the roll-over relief for capital gains tax purposes in relation to farm restructuring.
However, he said that the reduction in the thresholds for capital acquisitions tax, and the increased rate to 33%, will act as a further barrier to farm transfers.
The reduction from 34 hectares to 30 hectares for the DAS will also hit many farmers working difficult land who are dependent on farming for their income, he said.
“The untenable nature of the Croke Park Agreement has been illustrated yet again and its core principle underlined — those who are already untouchable will remain untouchable and all the rest must take the pain,” he said.
“In the meantime, farm families participating in schemes like DAS are now bracing themselves for their third cut in the same period. It is grossly unfair.”
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association criticised the cuts in the DAS, and the replacement of the current suckler cow welfare scheme with what it called a ‘suckler lite’ scheme.
“The DAS has yet again been seen as a soft target,” said ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin.
“The DAS is absolutely vital to many low income farmers, particularly in the West.”
However, Mr Coveney defended the agriculture budget which was framed against the backdrop of reduced funding.
He said of the 100,000 farmers in the DAS, almost 73% — mostly those farming in mountainous areas — will see no change from the budget.
“I have decided to focus on the protection of the smaller and most disadvantaged, including mountain sheep holdings whose payments will remain unchanged next year,” he said.
He pointed to various taxation measures which will help boost the agri-food industry.
And he said he has provided €61m to fund three AEOS environmental schemes next year.
He also said his department has managed to achieve savings in its running costs in the order of some €70m over the last three years.
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