THE greatest threat to Irish farming is looming over the size of the European Union budget and its impact on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after 2013.
European Parliament member George Lyon issued the warning at the Agricultural Science Association conference in Tullow, Co Carlow yesterday.
He said there is the threat of a triple whammy on the EU budget, leading to a substantial cut in direct payments to Irish farmers.
“Firstly, huge pressure is building up across Europe for budget cuts from finance ministers in cash-strapped member states which need to find savings,” he said.
“Secondly, there is pressure from those who wish to see the CAP cut and the money directed to other priorities such as climate change and economic recovery through job creation.
“We have already seen that threat emerge in the leaked EU Commission draft budget paper last November.
“On top of that, we have the demand from new member states for a greater share of the cake when distributing direct payments. Ireland could lose out if that argument prevails,” he said.
The Scottish MEP, whose report on CAP reform was adopted by the European Parliament in July, predicted the ending of the historic -based payment system and a move to an area-based system. “This will be a painful process as many farmers will either be substantial winners or losers. As we discovered in Scotland, at least in the public debate on this issue, every farmer seemed to be a loser.
“For these reasons I believe this will turn out to be one of the most difficult reforms since the original MacSharry reforms of 1992,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith said it is clear support for the historic payment model is decreasing among his colleagues in other member states.
“I will continue to press the merits of the historic model. Our current system has the very important benefit of concentrating payments on active farmers and this is a principle which should be retained. I will, of course, engage in the detailed discussions and consultations that are taking place on all possible alternatives.
“My primary aim is to secure a direct payments system that provides our fair share of funding and that supports the viability of Irish farming,” he said, adding that Ireland is totally opposed to the flat-rate system.
Irish Farmers’ Association president John Bryan hit out at suggestions that the CAP budget should be reduced.
“A fully-funded CAP must be maintained post- 2013 to ensure food security for European consumers and guarantees on food traceability and the highest environmental and animal welfare standards,” he said.
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