I was delighted to see in the programme for government a significant support for the next generation of farmers — with commitments to maintain the young farmer schemes, to use the taxation system to encourage land mobility and succession, to ensure access to affordable credit and a review of agricultural education.
As National president of Macra na Feirme, we have been working on these issues for many years and will continue to do so with the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The programme sets out and confirms the ambitious plans which were contained in the recently published Foodwise 2025.
Central to all these elaborate targets being achieved are farmers on the ground.
These are the men and women who work hard during unsociable hours on cold, dark and dreary nights calving the cow or lambing the ewe, or in finer weather in the field sowing and harvesting their crops.
Everyone is working tirelessly to produce high-quality, traceable, safe food.
The poor prices being paid at present for all commodities has farmers under severe stress and strain, contributing to increased negativity across the industry.
The success of this government and its programme will be judged on returning a decent margin to us farmers.
The programme deals with protecting farm incomes. In spite of the tough times, we, as the new generation of farmers are excited about our future.
The government has a responsibility to help us put the building blocks in place for a successful career in farming. We’re ambitious, energetic and educated.
Generational renewal has to be facilitated with young farmer-friendly measures and dealing with the issues facing us — like access to schemes, education, land, affordable finance and income.
Macra na Feirme in itself is facilitating generational change via the land mobility service and providing young farmers with continual professional development via our young farmer Skillnets training programme.
The commitment to continue all the young farmer CAP schemes is welcomed.
I have no doubt that the presence and input of a number of rural Independent TDs around the government formation negotiation table, has resulted in a commitment in the programme to seek recognition for the ‘forgotten farmers’ as a group with significant disadvantage, under the National Reserve.
The forgotten farmers are a group of farmers who are under 40 years and who started farming pre- 2008 and have no or very low-value payments.
I welcome this commitment in the programme and it is a positive step forward for this cohort of young farmers.
The focus now turns to the Government’s delivery on all aspects for the programme but in particular for young farmers.
The five-year rule, associated with all the Cap schemes is creating two tiers of young farmers.
Macra na Feirme has been consistently flagging the five-year rule as an issue as far back as December 2013 when the Cap legislation was first published.
We have not witnessed any positive movements by Minister Coveney or the Department of Agriculture on the case of new entrant, parent-partnership, young farmers either, whose cases are a lot more straightforward than the forgotten farmers.
We have now raised the issue with new minister Michael Creed.
There are around 240 young farmers who did not go onto the herd number but entered Teagasc-registered, family-production partnerships to get priority access to buy extra milk quota in the mid-2000s.
They were not classified as young farmers in the old Cap and are now not classified as young farmers in the current Cap when they activate a herd number.
There has been a lack of political will at a government level to make a decision to provide a budget for a young farmer national reserve in 2016, despite a commitment being made in the programme to prioritise the role out of a national reserve.
There is also a lack of agreement among farmer organisations on the funding of a national reserve. Macra na Feirme is a lone voice on the proposed linear cut to fund a national reserve.
This poses the question; where is the money going to come from for a national reserve to provide a payment to the ‘forgotten farmers’ who deserve to be looked after?
Based on our experiences so far on the issues above, my initial view on prospects of the Government delivering for these “forgotten farmers” is one of scepticism.
We will battle on.
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