Farmers braced for incoming CAP changes

This is the first and probably the last chance for family farms, especially those who have been developing over the last decade, to fight for a fair share of the CAP budget.

Last week’s agreement on the new direction for the Common Agricultural Policy is an opportunity for the Government to implement changes that will help small- and medium-sized dairy farmers grow into viable units.

These are farmers who got few payments from CAP up to now.

There will be no changes until 2015, and I would not be surprised if the changes were delayed further by those who want to keep farm payments as close as possible to the present situation.

Documentation regarding the agreement states that direct payments will be distributed in a fairer way, putting an end to “historical references”.

However, it also contains many references to relationships between existing historical payments and future payments.

For example, in redistribution, existing high payments must not be cut by more than 30% by 2019, and existing low payments may not be less than 60% of average payments.

Therefore, what happened on farms in 2000, 2001, and 2002 will still largely determine payments 20 years later.

Many of the CAP changes agreed are on a voluntary basis for each country. These include increasing support for small- and medium-sized farmers by allocating higher levels of aid to the “first hectares” of a farm, special aid for small farms, etc.

I attended a briefing meeting last week at which Rudolf Mogele, deputy director general of the DG Agri, European Commission, was a speaker.

He made it clear that most of the details are optional, and there is a huge pot of money available to individual governments for optional allocation.

There is also the possibility of transfers between Pillar 1 (farmer payments) and Pillar 2 (rural development).

It is therefore fair to say that the fight starts now regarding payments for different causes.

When Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney came to office, he made it clear that he favoured a family farm type of agriculture. The new CAP agreement gives him and the Government the opportunity to support this type of farming, which will help the vast majority of farmers.

Despite widespread comments to the contrary, this need not endanger national productivity.

Indeed, in the context of dairying, it will provide a larger base for expansion at affordable costs to farmers.

Last chance

This is the first and probably the last chance for family farms, especially those who have been developing over the last decade, to fight for a fair share of the CAP budget.

There are powerful vested interest lobby groups fighting to keep payments as close as possible to the status quo for as long as possible.

It is up to the vast majority or farmers to make their views known to all concerned on the allocation of the new CAP funds.

They must come out and be heard.

Otherwise, very many of them will eventually be forced out of business.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of existing family dairy farmers have the potential to expand into viable units without significant additional costs.

Studies have indicated that most of the expected expansion in dairying can come from existing dairy farmers.

But there must be a change in policy by the Department of Agriculture if average-sized family dairy farmers are to be allowed expand and succeed or even exists.

With the end of quotas in sight, there will be opportunities for well planned expansion in dairying.

The bulk of farmers are making good improvements and should be competitive in world markets.

They are becoming very efficient in many aspects of their farming, particularly with grassland management and breeding better cows.

The bad weather has given some of them a setback but most will recover.

However, a minority have grown their dairy enterprises too quickly, sometimes without adequate quota or adequate financial backing, and these will have a stressful few years.

Over the years, most of the smaller quota holders have been seriously curtailed in their dairy farming activities due to insufficient milk quotas, and many have been forced out of business.

The miserly allocation from the national quota increases to small/medium producers for the past number of years is very discouraging for such farmers, while new entrants and large conglomerates were getting generous treatment.


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