ICSA rejects notion of return to coupled farm payments at Sligo meeting

26th July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gilmartin, has rejected any suggestion that Ireland should return to any form of coupled payments system under the new CAP, which is currently being negotiated.  

“The reality is that decoupling has played a key role in increased livestock prices for both cattle and sheep.  While meat factories are actively supporting a return to the old systems of premia, that’s only because they want to pay less for stock.  Farmers should be very wary of going back to the old ways.”  

“Getting your Single Payment cut and then getting it back with terms and conditions attached as a suckler premium or ewe premium is potentially disastrous because it will lead to increased numbers and more control of prices for factories.  Any support scheme which artificially encourages farmers to keep more stock than the market wants can only lead to falling prices.  It’s not that long ago that farmers thought that 90p/lb was a good target for beef price.”

Mr Gilmartin was speaking at an open forum on the CAP reform negotiations, organised by ICSA, at the Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo last week, which was chaired by ICSA Connaught/Ulster vice president John Flynn and featured guest speakers Marian Harkin MEP, Michael Colreavy TD and Senator Marc Mac Sharry.  

One of the main concerns during the CAP reform talks, according to Mr. Gilmartin, is the fact that the overall EU budget has yet to be decided – and this means that we don’t know how much will be allocated to the CAP post-2013.  Ideally, the CAP reforms would be decided upon during the Irish presidency of the EU in the first half of next year – however this is looking increasingly unlikely.  Mr. Gilmartin has written to the Taoiseach seeking a meeting with him to emphasise the need to get a deal done on the CAP budget as quickly as possible.

Guest speaker, MEP Marian Harkin – who is a member of the European Parliament agriculture committee – outlined that she has received some suggestions that it might be time to return to a system of coupled payments for farmers.  ICSA was the main force behind the abolition of coupled payments in the early 2000s, a move which has been credited as being behind the increase in quality in Irish beef and the higher prices Irish cattle have been making in recent years.  Both Gabriel Gilmartin and Eddie Punch rejected outright any suggestion that going back to coupled payments as being a backward step, which would be detrimental to Irish farmers in the long run.  

Mr. Gilmartin also outlined to those at the meeting that one of the other big concerns is the desire of EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, to bring in a flat rate payment per hectare – which ICSA says, “might work in theory but not in practice”.  Mr Gilmartin said that ICSA is working to minimise cuts to the Single Payment of active farmers.  He added that increases should be targeted carefully at deserving cases rather than a flat across the board increase for those with no or low payments.  

“The problem is that an across-the-board flat rate is inefficient because it spreads payments too thinly.  It involves redistributing money to sofa farmers and speculators as well as landowners with vast tracks of land. Meanwhile, active farmers lose out.”   
 
ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch gave a comprehensive presentation of the current state of play in the CAP negotiations.  Mr. Punch presented case studies showing the financial effect that will be felt by Irish farmers should either the Ciolos or Santos proposals be carried – and also presented the alternative strategy being pushed by the ICSA, which would see less cuts to Single Farm Payments in Ireland, while making the payments more targeted and efficient.  

Senator Marc Mac Sharry was adamant that Commissioner Ciolos must grasp the nature of Irish farming and realise that a ‘one size fits all’ CAP will not work here.  Deputy Michael Colreavy said meeting such as last week’s were very important, as they allow the farmers themselves to have a say in the crucial CAP talks.