BUDGET cuts in agriculture led to a clash of opinions in Galway last night between young farmers and Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith.
The clash occurred at the start of Macra na Feirme’s national rally, which Mr Smith officially opened in Salthill, Co Galway.
Macra has 8,000 members countrywide. It sharply criticised the suspension of two specific agricultural programmes in the budget, which are of particular importance to young farmers.
Speaking before the ceremony, Macra president Catherine Buckley called on the minister to “fix his blunders and show foresight for the agricultural industry”.
She specifically urged him to immediately re-open both the Young Farmers Installation Scheme and the Early Retirement Schemes, which were suspended.
Ms Buckley said farm restructuring and the demographic structure of agriculture must be top of the minister’s agenda. “The recent increases of students attending agricultural colleges presented a great opportunity to turn the tide on the numbers entering the agricultural sector.”
But the minister strongly defended what he described as the difficult choices he had to make to ensure funding for schemes identified as priorities for the sector.
Mr Smith said he had outlined in a meeting with Ms Buckley and a Macra delegation on Wednesday that his strategy in making choices on the use of resources was to ensure the development of a productive and competitive sector into the future.
“The reality is that prioritising expenditure on certain schemes and services could be achieved only at the expense of others in order that we could meet the current budgetary constraints,” he said.
Mr Smith said that while he had decided to suspend new applications for entry to the Early Retirement and Young Farmer Installation Schemes for 2009, he still provided almost < €57 million for commitments under both schemes.
“I firmly believe farmers and the wider rural community are willing to play their part in accepting certain difficult measures, which will allow the economy to emerge from this extremely difficult period of global turmoil and be restored to its growth path.”
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