This is not an easy year, with dramatic price reductions in the dairy and tillage sectors, sticky beef and lamb markets as well as severe weather pressures, but with little reduction in many critical costs.
While fertilisers have come back, they are still far above pre-Ukrainian invasion levels and the general run of farmers’ costs liable for VAT are showing a range of increases rather than reductions.
The flat rate refund mechanism is a fully legal mechanism that allows the agriculture sector as a whole to be VAT-neutral.
If input costs rise and output prices that qualify for a flat rate refund fall, then clearly an adjustment is due and we can only assume it will be implemented in the forthcoming budget.
The case is well made in the IFA’s budget submission to Government.
The submission itself is, by any standards, a first-class document that pulls together the various involvements of the State in farming and how, at least from the farm organisation’s view, they might be modified or improved.
When it is pulled together, it is extraordinary how the State in the broadest sense affects and directly influences every farm and farmer in the country.
Make or break
While the basic vocation and role of farmers might be seen to be food production, the market, regulatory and taxation systems can make or break individual enterprises.
There are numerous examples and case studies given in the document.
Some such as the Residential Zoned Land Tax will, under the present system, force the sale of land that may have been farmed for generations by the same family, simply because it has been zoned as suitable for housing by the local authority.
If the local authority wants to buy it for the common good, they have the power to do so under the Constitution, but subject to clear criteria as to how the price should be determined.
To simply level an extra penal ownership tax is patently wrong, but this is only one isolated example. We still lack clear means of ensuring fair dealing between various players in the food chain.
A system not working
The pressures on fruit, vegetable and poultry producers and their exit from production is clear evidence of a system not working.
While at EU level, the extraordinary moves to reduce EU agricultural output, regardless of scientific or economic justification, imposes obligations on Government to either resist current trends or to put in place realistic compensation.
The imminent departure of Commissioner Timmermans from the European Commission may see some reassessment in Brussels policy, but this should not be counted on.
At home, the whole nitrates and climate change policies should allow more time for the improvements that are clearly in prospect to be evaluated sensibly before further restrictions are imposed.
A worthwhile document and one that deserves to be taken seriously by Government.