Decoupling variations attacked as ‘gravy train’ for rich land owners

DECOUPLED payments to individual farmers of up to €3,500 per hectare per year from January 1, 2005 have been criticised as an EU “gravy train” for the rich, at the expense of thousands of land owners who will receive nothing.

A huge variation is expected in the level of payments to individual land owners. They will peak at around €3,500 per hectare, but it is estimated that at least €30,000 land owners will be left with no entitlement to payment, initially at least.

Ireland has yet to exercise its options on payments, but there has been overwhelming demand here for full decoupling. Payments to all farmers in the new member states which join the EU next May will be made on a flat rate basis.

The option of each farmer receiving the same payment per hectare is also available to the Irish Government, but will not be taken up a policy which has attracted some criticism at the CAP Mid Term Review information meetings held around the country.

At the meeting in Nenagh, Co Tippeary, Roscrea farmer Tim Hough slammed the Department of Agriculture for being "only concerned with setting up a gravy train for the rich, with no consideration for the poor relations who are going to get very little or nothing out of this".

Pat Lynch, East Clare said that example farmer profiles presented to the meeting by the Department gave a lower level of direct aid than averaging would yield. He called for the flat rate averaging option to be put to a vote of the meeting, but this was not conceded.

Bill McGarry, Senior Inspector, Department of Agriculture, confirmed that the Government has the option to pay an average rate across the entire country or at province, county, or DED level, but it was a system that would not suit everybody.

He said some concessions have been agreed for farmers losing out because they leased their land under the Early Retirement Scheme.

But he added, "Some people will not be happy with what they will obtain". Those who receive allocations from the National Reserve cannot sell these entitlements for five years, and will have it on a "use it or lose it" basis.

He advised farmers unable to activate their entitlements in 2005 to immediately inform the Department in writing, to avoid losing the entitlements, and he said all farmers' CAP Reform problems will be considered on a one to one basis by the Department of Agriculture.

There was almost unanimous approval for full de-coupling from the farmers at the Nenagh meeting.

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