The last number of months has been extremely busy from an IFA perspective, with CAP reform dominating the work agenda.
Good progress has been made in securing an overall CAP budget for the next seven years, and the agreement reached in Brussels in June minimised the damage the Ciolos proposals would have done to active, productive farmers in Ireland.
The implementation of CAP reform at national level is now a key issue for the IFA, and our focus remains on ensuring that monies available through Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 are targeted at active, productive farmers. Our executive council will meet on Wednesday to progress the best way forward.
A vital part of the final CAP deal is a Government commitment to provide 50:50 co-financing for the Rural Development Programme, with national top-ups.
The budget has been brought forward to October this year, which means the coming weeks will see the negotiations between various government departments intensify.
IFA analysis of the Government’s own figures shows the disproportionate impact on the agriculture sector of successive budgets. Since 2008, the total agriculture spend has been reduced by 41.2%, compared to a reduction of 12.6% for total spending across all Government departments. In fact, we are now back at 2003 levels compared to other departments. Minister Coveney must use the budget to begin to reverse past draconian cuts to farm schemes which have impacted severely, especially on low-income farmers.
The minister must lead the way at the Cabinet table when the decisions around the budget are made between now and the middle of October.I have already met our Taoiseach Enda Kenny to convey farmer concerns and we will meet ministers Noonan and Howlin next month, where we will be emphasising the importance of investment in agriculture and taxation measures for the development of the sector.
We will also have a review of the nitrates regulations later this year. The review must address the alarming decline of phosphorous levels in soils which is leading to falling yields and output.
IFA has called for the continuation of the nitrates derogation to support the sustainable growth of the sector. The targets for expansion must not be derailed by climate change legislation, either. We have a model of food production in this country that is emission efficient and is based on low carbon output. We have held discussions with Environment Minister Phil Hogan and we are determined to ensure our views are reflected in the final regulation.
On inspections, the level of duplication between the Department of Agriculture and local authorities cannot continue. I want the minister to undertake a full review of the inspection and penalty regime across all the schemes in his department, and to implement a new Charter of Rights to protect farmers.
Cashflow is still tight following the financial pressure as a result of the delayed spring and the scarcity of fodder.
There is a strong case for a 70% advance on the Single Farm Payment. IFA is in regular contact with the department and will be insisting on prompt payment on all schemes this year.
On the international front, efforts are continuing to tie up trade deals with the United States and Canada. Both could be very damaging for our beef and livestock sectors, and our negotiators cannot sacrifice them in any final outcome. WTO is also likely to be resurrected.
Our Government must be very vigilant as we do not want to return to a situation where agriculture was used as a bargaining chip.
As we prepare for dairy expansion, price volatility will have to be addressed through market supports and resisting attempts to restrict output after 2015.
Rising input costs is a constant threat to viability, and we will continue to push for greater competitiveness.
Looking beyond the medium term, the challenge for farmers across Europe is to re-focus the CAP as a driver of food production that gives producers a decent standard of living and provides consumers with quality produce.
* John Bryan is president of the IFA