IFA chief challenges Government’s desire to boost agri-food job creation

IFA president John Bryan has challenged the Government’s stated desire to boost agri-food job creation while simultaneously cutting the sector’s funding.

Mr Bryan yesterday told the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform that total funding for the agriculture budget has been reduced by a greater percentage than any other major Government department. Since 2008, total funding for agriculture has been cut by 41.2%, compared with an average reduction across all Government departments of 12.6%.

The IFA leader said the agri-food sector needs the Government to support farmers, and to help them provide a sustainable stimulus for the Irish economy. This, he said, would drive export growth and job creation.

“Despite a difficult economic environment in our main export markets, there has been an increase in food exports of 8% during the first half of 2013,” said Mr Bryan. “This comes at a time when Ireland is experiencing a general fall in manufacturing exports.”

He said the primary agriculture sector underpins this growth in food exports. Agriculture delivers a high quality, sustainable raw material to the food sector, and it contributes to economic activity in every part of Ireland and is of particular importance in the rural economy.

“However, farming remains a low-income sector, and the importance of farm schemes to farm income and production must not be forgotten,” Mr Bryan argued. “A combination of dreadful weather conditions which continued into spring 2013, soaring input costs and the resulting fodder crisis impacted heavily on profitability and output at farm level.”

Recently published figures by Teagasc’s National Farm Survey estimate that average family farm in 2012 fell by 15% compared with 2011. Many farmers have come under severe cashflow problems as a result.

In addition, he said, the impact on farm incomes from excessive budget cuts, and cuts to farm schemes in particular, is challenging the viability of thousands of low-income family farms. Cuts to farm schemes impact directly on farm income and have a negative knock-on effect on production decisions on-farm.

The IFA leader also noted that the proportionate spend on the agriculture sector since 2004 has fallen by 25% (from 3.04% in 2004 of the total national budget to 2.26% in 2013). Within the agriculture budget, farm schemes have been targeted for disproportionate cuts, he added.

Total expenditure on farm schemes between 2011 and 2013 has fallen by 18% or €119m. This compares with a reduction in expenditure of 8%, or €60m across all other budgetary headings within the agriculture budget.

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