Read IFA President Joe Healy’s speech at the IFA-EU Citizens Dialogue on the future of CAP.
I’m delighted to see such a large crowd here in Kilkenny this evening. The Commissioner might be playing at home, but the crowd here have travelled from all over the country. But this is no sporting fixture. This is not about medals or a trophy. This is about our livelihoods. It’s about our future, it’s about the survival of rural Ireland.
At our AGM in January, I said 2018 would be a defining year for agriculture. Well, the month of May will be a defining month for the next CAP. The EU Commission will make a key decision about the next EU budget, and the next budget for the Common Agricultural Policy.
Direct payments are the lifeline for farm incomes. After the spring we haven’t had, farmers would be under water without them. The CAP injects €1.75bn into the Irish economy each year.
Direct payments account for three-quarters of our income, on average. In the low-income sectors, it makes up more than 100% of income. Commissioner, we need an increased CAP Budget after 2020.
The farmers in this room are sick of seeing their payments being reduced by political decisions and eroded by inflation. We need an increased CAP budget to take account of inflation over the last seven years and allow for inflation over the lifetime of the next CAP.
Everyone else in the economy gets increases to reflect inflation. AND SO SHOULD FARMERS.
Along with our Government, we expect you to pull out all the stops to get this. Work with other Member States, with fellow Commissioners, twist arms, cajole, do whatever has to be done. Commissioner, we need you to fight like hell.
As a member of the European farm organisation COPA, the IFA has been lobbying hard to ensure CAP is a priority for other countries too.
There are two key issues we need to focus on. Firstly, the size of the overall EU budget (known as the MFF) and secondly the portion of that budget that goes to the CAP.
On the overall EU Budget, the target must be to get Member States to increase their contributions from 1% Gross National Income to 1.3% of their Gross National Income. 21 of the 27 countries are open to this, including Ireland.
The Commission must get the rest on board. It is time for the 27 countries in the EU to tog out for Europe and to tog out for EU farmers.
It’s vital to get the Budget increased. The economy across Europe is much stronger now than it was in 2012. Farm incomes are much lower than other sectors and we have to close the gap. There is also the shortfall arising from Brexit. We cannot have a situation where Irish farmers could get hit on the double because the UK decided to leave.
We cannot have a situation where EU farmers are worse off because the UK have decided to leave the EU. What sort of message does that send out about the EU?
One way to give farmers confidence about their future and the future of Europe is to secure delivery on the Budget now.
There has to be some regard and reward for supporting the EU. And there has to be some recognition of European solidarity.
Your colleague, the Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger has been busy touring Europe, talking down the CAP Budget, insisting there has to be a cut!
A recent EU Commission paper set out three options for the CAP a 30% cut, 15% cut or no change in the budget. Well to borrow a phrase, a 30% cut is OUT, a 15% cut is OUT and keeping the budget the same is OUT.
We need an increase and nothing less
Commissioner Oettinger and some his colleagues will need tight marking. They have an anti-CAP agenda.
To those who say CAP is only for farmers, I say it is a policy for all EU citizens, facilitated by farmers. The original idea of the CAP was to provide farmers with a fair standard of living. In return, we produced a sustainable supply of safe high-quality food for consumers at affordable prices.
But today’s CAP is about much more than that. Farmers are being asked to deliver public goods and meet society’s expectations on the environment and climate change.
The average household spend on food has reduced from 30% to just 15% today.
We have kept our end of the bargain. But when you look at the gap between incomes in farming and elsewhere in society, it is clear that farmers are being taken for granted.
Since 1990, the share of the EU Budget going to the CAP has fallen from 60% to 38%.
The real value of payments to farmers has fallen as they haven’t risen to keep pace with inflation. Without adequate funding, CAP cannot succeed. It’s vital for Europe that CAP is successful.
There is a challenge that you have to meet head on in the next CAP. Farmers cannot have more rules & regulations down on top of them. We hear plenty about simplification, but farmers are sceptical. Our experience is that farmers face more red tape after every reform.
And Commissioner, while we note your plans to give Members States more control, our own Department is well capable of making things complicated too!
It’s time farmers saw real delivery on simplification.
Farmers are sick of more and more rules for less and less income. We have Department inspections, local authority inspections, eyes in the sky, Bord Bia audits, cross compliance, penalties etc etc. We are sick of it. Farmers feel they are under siege. Well it’s time to lift the siege.
It’s fair to say, Commissioner, that a lot of good work has been done by you on retail regulation.
We all know the balance of power is wrong when the retailer is grabbing half of the final price paid by the consumer. We need to put a stop to the retailer dictators. As farmers, we shoulder most of the risk. It’s time we got more of the reward.
The emphasis on the environment is strong in the CAP communications issued to-date. And rightly so.
While CAP continues to deliver for European citizens who enjoy safe, high quality and affordable food, it also continues to deliver for the environment. 90% of the measures under the Rural Development Plan support the environment.
However, further environmental protection and investment on farms is only possible if farmers receive a fairer return for their work.
Our Smart Farming programme shows what can be done to reduce emissions AND increase the bottom line.
And Commissioner, I cannot let the moment pass without commenting on the contradiction between the EU Climate Change mantra and their plans to give more access for Brazilian beef.
A kilo of Brazilian beef leaves four times the carbon footprint of a kilo of Irish beef.
It’s time Brazil got the wake up call! Beef and poultry should be off the menu in Mercosur talks.
Commissioner, the payments farmers receive under CAP are spent in the local towns, villages, shops and businesses.
Paying contractors, paying banks and others across rural Ireland who depend on the farmer.
The CAP supports farmers to produce the raw materials.
This in turn underpins our agri-food industry to produce €12bn in annual exports.
And supports 300,000 jobs across the country.
Our sector’s contribution is crucial, but it depends on one thing – the farmer.
And more and more the farmer is being taken for granted.
There are many views about the new CAP. Differing between regions and sectors. Differing views about how the money should be allocated. These are debates that need to be had but they are for another day. This evening is about the budget.
We need our Government and our Commissioner fully focussed on delivering an increased overall budget for the CAP.
I have met the Taoiseach on a number of occasions. He accepted an IFA invitation to visit a farm shortly after he was elected and he stressed that while he was from Dublin, he would be strong on farming issues.
He attended our AGM in January where he told us in his own words that he would ‘have our backs’. Well I say to the Taoiseach, the time has come to make good on that commitment. We need you, Commissioner, Minister Creed, and our Government to fight for the CAP.
The stakes could not be higher. Commissioner, you have been involved in politics at the highest level for a long time. You have made big decisions and been a part of big decisions.
This is a huge moment and we are depending on you to bring all of your knowledge, experience, skill and toughness to the table.
I acknowledge your commitment given here this evening, that you are doing everything in your power to protect the CAP Budget.
The future of the farmers in this room and beyond is in your hands. The future of Irish farming is your hands. The future of rural Ireland is in your hands. Now is the moment when you are needed most.
We need an increase in the EU budget, we need an increase in the CAP budget. We need an increase in our payments.
We need you to fight like hell.