Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has defined family farms, for the purposes of TAMS III applications, to be 90 cows or under.

In a letter to Macra na Feirme and seen by the Irish Farmers Journal, Minister McConalogue’s private secretary Paul Whelan outlined the decision.

“A family farm in the context of TAMS III is a typical dairy farm. The average dairy farm has approximately 90 dairy cows,” Whelan wrote.

Defending the minister’s decision to restrict grant aid applications for milking equipment to young farmers at only those milking 120 cows or fewer (160 if in a partnership), the official wrote: “The 120-cow limit is a 33% increase on the size of the average dairy farm.

“Under the new TAMS III approximately 80% of all dairy farms are eligible to apply for milking machine investments. It is only the largest 20% of farms that are not eligible to apply for milking machines.”

Macra na Feirme president John Keane has described the letter as “a slippery slope towards capping and quotas”, adding that it was removing any ambition for succession in family farms.

Controversial restrictions

The minister’s secretary also confirmed other controversial restrictions which will apply to TAMS III applications such as the number of eligible milking units and a ban on dairy expansion:

  • For applications under the Dairy Equipment Capital Investment Scheme, Women Farmers Capital Investment Scheme and Organic Capital Investment Scheme, applicants may apply for up to 10 milking units in a herringbone parlour, or one robotic milking machine, if they have fewer than 120 cows on average over the year preceding the making of an application.
  • For applicants under the Young Farmer Capital Investment Scheme (YFCIS) and also for registered farm partnerships involving a young farmer, the limit on cow numbers for the preceding year is set at 160 dairy cows. For those applicants under the YFCIS who have between 121 and 160 cows, there will be a requirement that they may not increase cow numbers for five years following payment of grant aid on the milking machine.
  • The minister’s secretary confirmed that the limit relates only to the milking machine investments and not to any other investments under TAMS III.

    “Over 78% of dairy herds will remain eligible to apply for milking machine investments under the 120-cow ceiling based on 2021 data and the average dairy herd has 90 dairy cows.

    “This requirement is being introduced to encourage dairy farmers to invest in environmentally and animal welfare beneficial structures,” the official wrote.

    ‘A slippery slope’

    Macra na Feirme president John Keane said that while the 90-cow figure was was not based on any science, he was more seriously concerned about the use of the words “typical” and “average” when defining the family farm.

    “If you follow that train of thought, the average suckler herd of around 18 cows would be defined as a family farm, a cattle-rearing farm would be 40 animals and a tillage farm would only be a family farm at 60ha in size,” Keane pointed out.

    “I sat in two Food Vision groups, beef and dairy, and none of the officials could define the family farm. Now it turns out that they were choosing not to reveal what they define as a family farm.”

    “This is a very slippery slope towards capping and quotas, and it is removing any ambition for growth and succession in family farms,” he added.

    “Instead, it’s moving policy towards a situation where one person would have to be completely finished farming, almost dead, before passing on to the next generation,” Keane blasted.

    “This definition by the minister is very significant because it shows a direction of travel that is very worrying.”

    Keane added: "Not only does this set a bad precedent in terms of policy travel it also puts our family farm image on a global scale at risk. We access markets based on our family farm model.

    "Is the Minister serious that a farm with 121 cows supporting three generations or a farmer with 20 sucklers is not a family Farm?

    Macra has sought a meeting with the Minister to seek clarity on the definition.

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