The big issues for farming are governed to a significant degree by the European Parliament, perhaps more than any other sector, with the possible exception of fisheries.

So it stands to reason that the selection of 14 MEPs to represent Ireland from the 73 hopefuls who have put themselves forward will have a big impact on how Irish farming has its case put forward in the committee chambers and the wider full parliamentary plenary hearings.

But what are the big issues, and what can such a small group of people, scattered as they are across half a dozen political groupings in a 720-strong parliament, hope to achieve?

The big-ticket item is always the Common Agricultural Policy, and that won’t change anytime soon.

There will be a reform of the current CAP within the lifetime of the new parliament. It is expected the new CAP will be finalised by the end of 2027.

The move towards flat area-based payments seems inevitable. Initially proposed by Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos in 2012, Ireland led a group of countries opposed to the ending of historical entitlements.

These are so-called because they are linked to the production-based payments generated on a farm between 2000-2002, divided into the amount of hectares farmed in those years.

Within the parliament, Irish MEPs formed alliances sympathetic to the option of retaining an element of historical payments, while Simon Coveney used his position as the occupant of the chair of EU Council of Agriculture Ministers (a position that rotates every six months among the member states) to deliver a compromise.

In the more recent reform, the parliament and the Commission effectively outgunned the ministerial council.

That compromise was partial convergence, with higher-value entitlements cut to increase lower value ones. Ireland also led a crusade around external convergence - where average payments in each country would converge toward each other. This suited Ireland, as our average entitlement value closely matched the EU average.

In the more recent reform, the parliament and the Commission effectively outgunned the ministerial council to see no less than three forms of flattening of payments.

Apart from further convergence, there was also front-loading, which worked in favour of small and average sized farms with low or average entitlements. In addition, eco-schemes were given a higher and flatter payment than before, a further form of convergence.

All the momentum is toward full flattening next time around. The IFA is firmly against that, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmer Association (INHFA) wants it. MEPs are similarly divided, as seen in the recent hustings. It may be the question is how to make flat payments work for Irish farming. Will there be coupled payments for livestock and/or crops?

These would have to somehow remain in the “green box” of non-trade distorting payments, and also probably not be seen to encourage extra output for environmental reasons. CAP will be a dominant theme across the next parliament’s lifetime. Just like always.

Food Security

In his remarks when in Ireland last year, the outgoing Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski (I’ve only just got the hang of spelling his name) acknowledged that one original aim of the CAP needed re-emphasising next time round.

A stable supply of affordable quality food was one of the founding principles of the European Economic Community (EEC) in the first place, and was at the heart of the CAP when it began in the shadow of post-war Europe, which often went hungry.

By the 1980s beef mountains and milk lakes saw a shift in policy, with the introduction of quotas for milk and sugar production and limits on coupled cattle payments to farms.

The chaos caused to global supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic was a sharp reminder that Europe’s buying power was not the guarantee of food supply it had been in a more stable world. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a further slap in the face to any complacency.

Will the CAP be the place where food security is addressed? Or will it be a change in the EU’s trade negotiation strategy? Ireland is a significant exporter of food both within the EU and externally, so our MEPs will have to be very involved in this debate.

The environment

Few countries have as high a proportion of their land in farming as Ireland. This, added to Ireland’s lack of heavy industry, means the delivery of the EU’s environmental ambition falls squarely on farmers’ shoulders.

Whether it’s the halving of CO2 emissions from 2018 to 2030, improvements in water or air quality, leaving space for nature or increasing renewable energy and raw materials for construction, farmers are on the front line.

These policies are felt at farm level in the Nitrates Directive, the Nature Restoration Law, the Sustainable Use Directive for pesticide usage, and the CAP itself.

There seems to be wide agreement among Irish European election candidates that new funding is needed to help farmers achieve a “just transition” but where exactly is this money going to come from? Of all these issues, the nitrates derogation has dominated at the four IFA hustings, but MEPs don’t have a direct role in its renewal.

They can however, forge alliances with government party MEPs from other countries to look favourably on our next derogation application. Like most issues facing the European Parliament, it’s about nudging the debate closer to Ireland’s perspective. Soft power, for which we may need hard-nosed MEPS.