Farmers as deserving as any in economic recovery

The old reliables in the budget used to be tobacco and drink, so-called because taxes were added on every year.

Farmers as deserving as any in economic recovery

By Stephen Cadogan

The old reliables in the budget used to be tobacco and drink, so-called because taxes were added on every year.

Now farmers fear they are old reliables, so-called because their pleas for help are ignored.

There’s some justification for that fear, even though the budget was limited in its scope by the risks and challenges posed by the housing crisis, Brexit, increasing trade barriers, and a public debt of €42,000 per person in the State — one of the highest in the developed world.

On the other hand, economic recovery has gone well, and farmers are as deserving as many others, after a very tough year, as they face into the existentialist threat of Brexit.

Farmers certainly haven’t come away empty-handed, but it’s the deaf ear to their pleas for help that hurts.

Time after time, they asked for measures to deal with income volatility in the dairy sector, but to no avail. It would not have been very costly to set up a volatility fund under the supervision of the Revenue Commissioners that farmers could deposit into in a good year, and draw money out of in difficult years.

Unfortunately, according to ICOS, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe was reluctant to concede on the principle of income deferral. ICOS will now concentrate on getting a volatility management tool incorporated into a CAP 2020 Rural Development Plan, as a mandatory requirement for member states.

Farmers had severely pressured the government for €200 million extra per year for suckler cows. All they are getting is €20m towards a pilot scheme in 2019.

After a tough year, farmers have cash flow difficulties, and were hoping a cheap cash flow loan package announced in the budget 12 months ago would come to their rescue. Unfortunately, it never came, and to rub salt in the wound, the re-announcement of it in this week’s budget confirms it won’t arrive until 2019, and it will only apply to capital projects, and cannot be used for working capital.

There were several disappointments for farmers on Tuesday. No-one should begrudge if some other sector does well in the budget. But farmers saw a lot of money sprayed in other directions Tuesday.

For example, the HSE is to receive record funding.

To help small to medium enterprises (a category which sometimes includes farmers, but not on this occasion) to attract and retain key employees will enable these employees get annual share options worth up to 100% of salary.

It will help them compete for labour in this year of almost full employment, but there was nothing to help farmers address the chronic labour shortage in the farming sector, with which they became painfully familiar in the last economic boom.

An additional €23m restores the payments enjoyed in the last economic boom for farmers in disadvantaged areas.

But farmers are more than entitled to that share of the economic recovery.

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