Figures published by the EU show total payments to farmers in 2015 fell almost 5% over the previous year, despite an increase in the actual number of beneficiaries.
The average payment to individual farmers fell from €13,167 in 2014 to €12,460 last year — a reduction of 5.4%.
An analysis of information on EU farm payments published by the Department of Agriculture shows 130,621 beneficiaries were paid €1.627bn last year.
Almost 650 more Irish farmers received payments from Brussels in 2015 than in 2014.
The figures show over 2,700 farmers or farm businesses received over €50,000 in EU payments last year.
A total of 2,723 individuals or bodies were paid over €50,000, representing 2.1% of all recipients. Of these, 327 or 0.25% of all beneficiaries, received over €100,000.
Co Meath had the highest number of high earners with 44 recipients of €100,000 or more in EU funding, followed by Co Cork (41), Co Tipperary (38) and Co Waterford (20). The analysis shows most of the top earners are co-operatives, leader partnerships, community development organisations, farm businesses and even one State body, Bord Bia.
The biggest single fund is the Common Agriculture Policy’s single payment scheme which is worth around €1.2bn but the figures also include payments under 15 other schemes relating to development, farm improvement and environmental schemes.
For example, the bulk of almost €1.7m received by Bord Bia is related to the School Fruit and Veg Scheme.
The biggest beneficiary of combined EU payments in 2015 was the Meath Community, Rural and Social Development Partnership (previously Meath Leader) based in Kells, Co Meath which received over €2.6m.
It was one of seven organisations to receive over €1m in funding. The others were: Bord Bia; Cill Dara Ar Aghaidh Teo; Fingal Leader Partnership; North East Kerry Leader Partnership; Forum Connemara; South Kerry Development; and Mayo North East Leader Partnership with the majority of money funding for development projects.
Ornua, formerly known as the Irish Dairy Board, received funding of over €432,000.
The largest funding for a private enterprise was paid to Walter Furlong Grain Ltd — a company owned by Co Wexford farmer, Walter Furlong. His 2015 payment of €389,640 was an increase of around €22,000 over the previous year.
Other high earners included O’Shea Farms of Piltown, Co Kilkenny (€329,914) owned by brothers, Richard, Thomas, Joseph and Seamus O’Shea and Meath potato farmer, Patrick Reynolds, from Navan (€267,130).
Two farm enterprises near Ardee, Co Louth, controlled by the controversial beef baron, Larry Goodman — Glydee Farms and Branganstown Farms — were collectively paid €483,753 last year.
The analysis shows that farmers and farm businesses in Dublin had the highest average payment last year at €19,669. Other counties with above-average payments included Co Waterford, Co Kilkenny, Co Carlow and Co Tipperary.
At the other end of the scale, farmers in Co Mayo had the lowest average EU payment at just €8,361. Average payments were also below €10,000 for farmers in counties Cavan, Galway, Monaghan, Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo.
Co Dublin and Co Meath were the only two counties in which average EU payments rose last year.
Farmers in Co Monaghan saw their average payments decrease by almost 13% to €8,361. Average payments for farmers in Co Cavan and Co Limerick also fell around 12% compared to 2014 levels.
Co Cork has the highest number of recipients of EU money with 13,421 — over 10% of all Irish farmers — receiving an average payment of €15,260.
The single biggest beneficiary from the county was the Clonakilty-based, West Cork Development Partnership which got over €603,000 in funding during 2015.
Publication of the sums of EU money received by farmers has proven controversial with farming representative bodies claiming that such information poses a security threat to individuals listed as in receipt of large funding.
Both the Irish Farmers Association and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association have called for publication of the details on payments to farmers to be banned as they represented a breach of farmers’ rights to privacy in relation to personal financial data.
Although publication of how much money farmers across the EU received from Brussels was halted in 2010 on data protection grounds, the practice was reintroduced last year following the introduction of new regulations by the European Commission.
They require all EU member states to publish the information and the department of agriculture has no discretion on whether the details can be released or not.
The European Commission has said details of such payments must be publicly accessible for reasons of transparency. Overall, €55bn was paid out to 10 million farmers across the 28 EU member states in 2015.
Information is limited to the name of the beneficiary, the municipality where they are resident and the amount of payments under individual schemes.
Detailed addresses of farmers are not published. The identity of farmers who are paid less than €1,250 are not released.
Under CAP reform proposals, future funding under the single payment scheme is to be capped at €150,000 as part of the EU’s plans to make the system more equitable between rich and poor farmers.
How the figures are calculated
The figures containing details about EU agricultural payments to Irish farmers are extracted from publicly available data recently published on the Department of Agriculture website.
They contain details of sums paid to farmers under various Common Agriculture schemes in 2015.
Breakdown of funding by county - no of farmers, total funding, average payments
Under EU regulations, the identity of the beneficiary is published, except for any payments under €1,250. Only the name of the municipality where the farmer is a resident (and not their full address) has been published for reasons of privacy.
The EU Commission has stated that the rules governing the publication of details of payments to farmers in the EU enhance transparency regarding the use of EU funds by reinforcing public control over money used.
“At the same time, they strike a balance between these objectives and the beneficiaries’ right to respect their private lives,” it added.
The Department of Agriculture said the information is published exclusively for complying with the terms of the EU legislation.
The information must be published by May 31 for the preceding financial year and remain available for two years.