CAP reform deal agreed, but Coveney warns changes have just begun

The EU has agreed the biggest reform of agriculture policy in a decade, but for Irish farmers the changes have just begun, warned Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.

Having negotiated on behalf of member states how the EU will spend over €300bn over the next seven years, Mr Coveney said he will now work to ensure it fits with plans to revitalise the country’s food industry.

Agriculture payments account for about 85% of Ireland’s funding from the EU, amounting to over €1.5bn a year. Agreement in the dying days of the Irish presidency came after four years of work and 40 negotiating meetings between Ireland, the commission and the European Parliament.

About 50,000 of the country’s biggest farmers will lose an average 12% of their EU payments over the next seven years while subsidies will increase by a third for 65,000 smaller farmers.

The IFA was critical, saying the most productive farmers would lose up to 35% of their payments by 2019, while the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said its overall verdict was negative.

The biggest recipients could face a limit on the money they get a year. It will be up to each country to decide whether to do this and Mr Coveney said: “We will use it, and if we want to, we can cap payments on a per hectare basis”.

Perhaps the biggest potential winners from the deal will be younger farmers under the age of 41, who will automatically get a top up of 25% on their payments.

With just 6% of Irish farmers under 35, Mr Coveney said a generational change is needed to bring in more innovative, environmentally conscious and productive younger farmers.

Subsidies will no longer be based just on how much farmers produce but will come with conditions, including maintaining the environment and preventing environmental damage. But the original proposals were watered down to become almost irrelevant, environmentalists complained, as 89% of farmers will be exempted.

However, Mairéad McGuinness MEP, one of the parliament’s negotiators, defended the deal, saying that the impact of setting aside a limited area on farms for wild flora and fauna will be assessed in 2017 when a decision may be made to expand it from 5% to 7%.

For Sean Kelly MEP, the phasing out of sugar quotas by 2017 opens up the chance for Ireland to reestablish its sugar industry, especially since the EU is now paying €40 per tonne more to import sugar than Irish produce would cost.

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