The CAP debate has come to life in recent weeks, with farmers coming to terms with what will happen to their payments and their farms in the coming years.
CAP funding of €1.6bn comes into the country annually and without that funding many farms would not survive at current market prices.
CAP reform is never easy, there are always winners and losers.
Battle lines have been drawn on convergence, eco schemes and front loading
Nobody wants to lose so it’s natural for all interested parties to argue their point either for the status quo or a change in the format.
And changes are coming, with a division now evident between certain cohorts of farmers.
Battle lines have been drawn on convergence, eco schemes and front loading, with different groups of farmers looking for different things.
There will be winners and losers, who will win and who will lose is still up in the air.
Convergence is still the biggest talking point among farmers, with some set to lose out and others set to gain.
Convergence is the process whereby payments are redistributed or flattened so that all farmers eventually end up with a similar payment per hectare.
The current proposals on the table range between a 75% rate and a 100% rate. Most Irish farm organisations are holding firm at 75% while the INHFA wants 100% convergence.
As of 2019, all entitlements are worth at least 60% of the national average. The national average is currently €265/ha
At the last round of negotiations, which failed in reaching agreement, MEPs were pushing for 100% convergence while the European council had tabled a compromise rate.
Convergence isn’t a new concept and had already been happening in the five years from 2015 to 2019.
As of 2019, all entitlements are worth at least 60% of the national average. The national average is currently €265/ha. The five-year period of convergence from 2015 to 2019 saw counties like Tipperary lose €9.1m and Laois lose €3.4m. On the other hand, Mayo increased by €15.5m while the Donegal payment rose by €13m. Close to €100m shifted from east to west during this period.
Internal convergence was paused in 2020 to allow negotiations take place around the future direction of CAP. The thinking is that the convergence figure will likely end up at 85% convergence by 2026.
Under the latest proposals, 25% or €300m of farmers’ Pillar I direct payments will be ring-fenced for eco schemes.
This is essentially taking the money off the farmer and giving it back to them under a different heading.
There is some concern, though, that all farmers will not be eligible to join the proposed eco schemes and therefore could be looking at a 25% cut to their direct payment on top of other proposed cuts.
Farmers in the west argue that all SAC/SPA/NHA land should automatically be eligible for an eco-scheme payment while farmers in the south argue that nobody should be discriminated against in terms of being able to join the scheme regardless of what the land type is.
This would be where 10% of a farmer’s basic payment would be deducted to provide a payment pot for front-loaded payments.
This front-loaded payment would be added back into each farmer’s payment in each year from 2023 on.
It can be applied to a minimum of 10ha and a maximum of the national average holding. In Ireland’s case that is 32ha.
Location: Ballinakill, Co Laois
Suckler cows: 40
Mid-season lambing ewes: 200
Other cattle: 60 cattle bought annually
I’m full-time farming just outside Ballinakill, Co Laois. My wife works but we depend on the farm to meet payments and living expenses.
Things have changed a lot on this farm over the last 10 years, we have been squeezed more and more.
Ten years ago it wouldn’t have cost me a thought to build a shed or spend money around the yard. Today if I had to buy a wheelbarrow, I’d be thinking about it.
We were in REPS – that was a huge income loss to us and that coupled with the constant chipping away at convergence has meant that I’m looking at a 40% income cut compared to 2008 payments.
That’s before you take away 10% for front-loading or 25% for eco schemes. What profession would stand up for that? To put it simply, convergence is a crude form of socialism and it’s going to leave a lot more farms unviable than we have at the moment.
The level of payment has to be based on your level of economic activity. You can’t put farmers out of business just to flatten payments. Flattening payments won’t solve the income crisis in our sector.
Location: Ballacolla, Co Laois
Suckler to beef: 200 cows, under 16 month bull beef and 20 month heifer beef
It is frustrating to think I ‘might’ be able to get back the 25% of eco scheme money if I’m lucky enough to meet the eligibility criteria.
That’s farmers money that they might pay back farmers.
If the EU politicians were really serious about the environment then they would have put new money on the table for new objectives. Farmers, our research bodies, our farm organisations have been asleep at the wheel on the sequestration argument.
We seem to be constantly on the back foot of late arguing and defending agriculture and we need to change that narrative very quickly. We are doing everything in our power to farm in an environmentally friendly way, not because we are getting paid to do it but because we want to do it and we know it’s the right thing to do.
Our direct payment isn’t banked and kept, it’s spent in our local economy, keeping rural towns and villages alive. If this payment is reduced, we’ll spend less and go more extensive. Is that good for rural Ireland?
I don’t think so but in the absence of consumers paying more for food, it will be our only choice to try and pave a way for the next generation to farm in Ballacolla.
Address: Urlingford, Co Tipperary
Suckler to beef farming: 150 suckler cows
System: Finishing steers and heifers at 20-24 months
Our payment has been chipped away at already for the last 10 years. Meanwhile, our costs have increased during that time so our net payment is being hit from all angles. Our supply chain is broken, with consumers capitalising on the fact that we produce food below the cost of production.
If we don’t get support, the price of food goes up, you can’t have it both ways.
I think the current proposals will be the death knell for the full-time beef farmer.
The dairy farmer can make it without supports, the part-time farmer can subsidise their income with a job but the full-time beef farmer is caught in the middle at the mercy of support payments and that’s why it’s so important to get that right.
Do we want a nation of hobby farmers or do we want a nation of food producers? You have to invest in a business if you need it to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
We are producing food to the highest environmental standards, why not support that?
If the current proposals go through, it will be survival mode and a complete mindset change for our system.
Con, Noreen and Paddy Boyle
Farming system: 250 Hill/Horned ewes
Address: Drumarone, Co Donegal
Part-time farming along with parents
It’s madness to think that something that my parents did 20 years ago dictates the level of support I get as a young farmer. Everything else has changed in 20 years but the basis for payments is still the same.
Four out of every five farmers will stand to benefit from convergence in Donegal and yet people would have you believe that it will decimate farming. We have to understand that our support payments have moved away from production. It’s about farming in an environmentally friendly way, protecting nature, farming with nature.
The supports you get shouldn’t be dictated by how many Friesian bulls you claimed premiums on in 2000. We are in a different place now.
As hill farmers we have taken serious income hits as well over the last 10 years. REPS was a huge loss to us and there wasn’t a word about it when it was pulled. We have to get back to a level playing field.
I’m an active farmer and why should I be discriminated against because of the type of land that I farm.
I would argue that I am delivering a lot more in terms of public goods than an intensive feedlot but yet I get supported less.
It has to change and it will change.
Address: Falcarragh, Co Donegal
System: Hill ewes and Galloway sucklers
We have severe restrictions placed on us as farmers on what we can do on designated land yet when it comes to supports, we get less.
I couldn’t have generated the payments that some farmers were able to on lowland because of restrictions that were placed on me so how is that fair?
The system we are farming is completely in synch with the environment and nature. We are farming in an extensive way paying attention to what we do.
We have been squeezed every way up in the hills. A farmer on green land can run the topper across the fields a few times a year and claim €500/ha for doing that. That’s not an option for me. If I don’t stock the hill, I will get penalised for not keeping the hill in good condition. I can’t run the topper on the hill.
There are winners and losers in everything. We lost out 20 years ago and it’s time now to put that right.
This isn’t about me going to €500/ha, it’s about hill farms getting rewarded for what they do and get closer to the national average. That’s all we want.
Address: Redcastle, Innishowen, Co Donegal
System: 250 Hill/mountain ewes, 25 suckler to weanling cows
100% convergence is the only way to go. Every hectare of land has to be treated the same.
We have to stop looking after the big fellas in this country and start supporting the small family farm, the farms that are keeping rural Ireland going.
Front-loading should be brought in to deliver this equity. The penny hasn’t dropped with the powers that be that farmers farming hill areas can offer so much in terms of delivering on our climate change objectives. We are working to a serious disadvantage up here compared to lowland farms and yet we continue to farm to the best of our ability.
I’m as active as any farmer and anybody that says we are getting money for doing nothing or that we are generating less economic activity should come with me for a week and they’ll see what activity is.
Nobody likes change but things are changing and hill farms are in a good place to deliver that change. In these areas farming is the only generator of economic activity. I don’t have other choices and yet the powers that be see fit to pay me €160/ha compared to other farmers getting paid €700/ha. All we want is a fair crack of the whip here.