Cattle farmer first big casualty of EU plans to reform income support

ONE of the largest-scale cattle farmers in the country is to lose 20% of the land which he farms when a rental lease is up at the start of next year.

He is one of the highest profile casualties of a land grab sparked by EU proposals to re-start the EU’s farm income support scheme from a clean sheet in 2014.

The south-east-based farmer, who prefers to remain nameless, had been renting 50 of his 250 acres of grassland for the past decade, but the landowner told him the lease will not be renewed.

The farmer said: “Someone has come in and offered to take the land on a five-year lease at twice the money. I had been paying an average of €100 an acre, 30 acres at €120 and 20 acres at €80 an acre. The landowner has been offered €200 an acre. That doesn’t make any sense to me to come in and pay that kind of crazy money.

“I may have to consider getting out of suckler farming. Either I will have to reduce stock numbers from my current herd of 100 sucklers , or I will have to try to rent land somewhere else. I had built up the entitlements on the land. The new leaseholder wants that land because of the EU’s plans to use 2014 as its new reference year for farm payments.”

The farmer was speaking at the final day of the ploughing championships in Athy, Co Kildare, where the number one topic of discussion was a leaked EU document suggesting that 2014 is to be used as a reference year against which farmers’ future EU income supports will be based.

In a bid to maximise their EU subsidies from 2014 onwards, landowners all over the country may take back lands they have been renting out, and hundreds of other farmers may compete to rent extra acres.

Department of Agriculture officials in Athy have been inundated with queries about the proposed EU changes to income support entitlements.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has broken his silence on the leaked EU proposals, by describing the 2014 reference year proposal as “nonsensical” and potentially hugely disruptive to the future of Irish farming.

This view was echoed by IFA national livestock chairman Michael Doran, who said that the contagious rumours about the EU leaks have distracted attention from other equally important CAP reform proposals, such as flat rate per hectare income subsidisation, and getting the subsidy model right for Ireland.

Mr Doran said: “No matter what people are told, they are still going to believe the rumour that 2014 is the new reference year and they will consequently keep trying to build up rented land.

“The IFA contends that any reference year should be based on the past, based on lands that have been farmed over a three-year period, not based on some future year.

“Any move to flatten the payments will move the money away from the people who are actually producing the beef, people who depend on farming for their livelihoods, and give the money to many landowners who are not even farming the land.”

IFA president John Bryan took the unexpected move of leaving the ploughing championships yesterday to plead with officials in Brussels to reconsider their plans indicated in recent leaks, ahead of official publication on October 12 of their proposals on CAP Reform post-2013.

Mr Bryan said: “The proposal for a new reference year in 2014 is creating major uncertainty for farmers. With over 800,000 hectares of land rented annually, speculation around a future reference period will cause unnecessary destabilisation in the land market.”

Mr Bryan said that 95% of the farmers who visited the IFA stand in Athy were clear in their view that a flat rate per-hectare payment would cause major disruption at farm level, impacting negatively on the production and viability of their family farm business.

Earlier attempts by the Government to quell fears of a 2014 land grab have now dissipated.

One Government agency official at the Ploughing Championships yesterday said that previous leaked EU documents had all retained up to 90% of their content when eventually published, with only cosmetic changes from the original leaked flyer.

“I know one farmer who was renting land for the last 14 years. His 15-year lease is up early next year and he has already been told he won’t have the option of renewing it. The landowner has told him he is taking the land back for himself.”

The IFA and other farm organisations have called on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to exert pressure on the EU to revisit CAP reform proposals.


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