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All agriculture related budget cutbacks should be reversed – Ferris

2 December, 2008 - by Martin Ferris TD


All agriculture related budget cutbacks should be reversed - Ferris

Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson Martin Ferris TD has called for all budget cuts related to agriculture to be reversed during a debate in the Dáil this evening. Deputy Ferris was debating a private members' motion for the reintroduction of the Installation Aid Grant for young farmers and the Early Retirement Scheme.

He said, "I fully support this motion and would go further and say that all of the cutbacks made in the Budget in the agricultural sector ought to be reversed. That would include not only the three schemes referred to but also the Suckler Welfare Scheme where payments are to be halved and also the cuts made in Teagasc and the overall allocation for research and development.

"Within days of the Budget I was contacted by a group of 27 young farmers in Kerry who, because of the closure of the Installation Aid Scheme, were concerned that they would not be eligible for the scheme. Twenty-three of them had already completed their training course in July this year and been awarded their FETAC certificates just days after the Budget.

"However, because of the closure of the scheme they are no longer eligible and this represents a severe and in some cases fatal blow to their hopes and prospects of beginning to farm. There are apparently 500 other young farmers in the state in a similar predicament.

"The stark fact of the matter is that in the absence of scheme such as Installation Aid many of the 23 young farmers I refer to in my own county and the 500 in other counties will not only not proceed with their plans, but may well in the current climate also be unable to secure employment elsewhere and without doubt a significant proportion of them will be forced to emigrate.

"The same applies to the Early Retirement Scheme. Myself and others have been meeting people and getting representations from people who felt badly done by the original scheme or rather how their situation was affected post the CAP reform and the impact that had on them.

"Closing the Scheme will in the same way as getting rid of Installation Aid not only have a direct impact on farmers incomes but also have a negative impact on the transfer of land to younger farmers and on the future of the sector with regard to land ownership, farm innovation and consolidation.

"It is clear from the representations I have had since the Budget not only from my own county but from around the country that there is huge anger and disappointment with the manner in which farming and the rural economy is being treated. That is being reflected now in the meetings and lobbies being held around the country, including the large turnout in Ennis on Sunday where up to 10,000 farmers and their families protested." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ferris' contribution follows:

I fully support this motion, and would go further and say that all of the cutbacks made in the Budget in the agricultural sector ought to be reversed. That would include not only the three schemes referred to but also the Suckler Welfare Scheme where payments are to be halved and also the cuts made in Teagasc and the overall allocation for research and development.

Within days of the Budget I was contacted by a group of 27 young farmers in Kerry who because of the closure of the Installation Aid Scheme were concerned that they would not be eligible for the scheme. 23 of them had already completed their training course in July this year and been awarded their FETAC certificates just days after the Budget.

However, because of the closure of the scheme they are no longer eligible and this represents a severe and in some cases fatal blow to their hopes and prospects of beginning to farm. There are apparently 500 other young farmers in the state in a similar predicament.

As I said at the time, this represents not only a betrayal of those young farmers who entered into training courses to prepare themselves to take over running a farm, it also represents a cynical vote of no confidence in rural Ireland.

The stark fact of the matter is that in the absence of scheme such as Installation Aid, which can often be the difference between a young farmer being able to get off the ground or not, many of the 23 young farmers I refer to in my own county and the 500 in other counties will not only not proceed with their plans, but may well in the current climate also be unable to secure employment elsewhere and without doubt a significant proportion of them will be forced to emigrate.

Is that the sort of message that this Government wants to send to young people in rural Ireland? Is that all they have to offer after a decade and more of economic growth? That once things begin to take a turn for the worst that young people in rural communities are expected to do what generations of young people in rural Ireland have had to do and turn their back on their traditional way of life and seek work on building sites and bars in London and New York. If such work is even available.

The same applies to the Early Retirement Scheme. Myself and others have been meeting people and getting representations from people who felt badly done by the original scheme or rather how their situation was affected post the CAP reform and the impact that had on them.

Closing the Scheme will in the same way as getting rid of Installation Aid not only have a direct impact on farmers incomes but also have a negative impact on the transfer of land to younger farmers and on the future of the sector with regard to land ownership, farm innovation and consolidation.

It is clear from the representations I have had since the Budget not only from my own county but from around the country that there is huge anger and disappointment with the manner in which farming and the rural economy is being treated. That is being reflected now in the meetings and lobbies being held around the country, including the large turnout in Ennis on Sunday where up to 10,000 farmers and their families protested.

While the entire sector is affected what is particularly noticeable is the impact which the cuts will have on smaller farmers and the manner in which this is adding to an already considerable level of pessimism among small to medium farmers about the future.

Unfortunately that ties in with the feedback which I have received in the course of compiling a report for the Agriculture Committee on the current state, and future prospects for farming and fishing in the western counties. While the report focuses on west Cork, Kerry, West Limerick, Clare, Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal it is of relevance to the entire country and particularly to farmers at the lower end of the income scale.

One of the most striking findings from a survey that was conducted among farmers in those counties during the Summer was the level of pessimism. Of the more than 200 farmers who took part in the survey at marts only 23% thought that their situation had improved since the introduction of the Single Farm Payment. 60% believed that their situation had gotten worse while the remainder felt that there had been no change.

That is an extremely worrying statistic and one that undermines a lot of the optimism that surrounded the introduction of decoupling as part of the 2003 CAP reform. One of the reasons clearly is that the actual value of the Single Farm Payment is declining, by around 12%, because it is not index linked, but also in some cases by Modulation even though farmers on the lowest payments are exempt.

Another significant finding from the survey was that 84% believed that farmers in the west were disadvantaged in comparison to those in other parts of the country. While some of this was attributed to the quality of land, others specifically referred to what they believed was an official neglect of the west, not just in farming, and that the overall treatment of the rural economy was impacting badly on farming and increasing the difficulties of attaining viability.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the survey, however, was the fact that only a minority of those questioned believed that they or a family member would still be involved in farming in ten years times. 42% believed that they would be, 38% that they would not, and the remainder were unsure.

That would assume that an even greater proportion of current farm households will be gone within the next decade than even the 23% decline by 2015 forecast in the Agri Vision report. It may, however, be a more realistic picture of the situation given the way western farmers view their prospects and in the light of the current undermining of the sector as represented most recently by the Budget cuts. Indeed were this survey to be conducted now, I am sure that the negative responses would be far greater than they were in the Summer.

That is why it is crucial that the Government takes urgent measures to encourage what remains the largest single indigenous provider of livelihoods in this state. And one which has a major multiplier affect throughout the rest of the rural economy in stimulating activity in other areas such as construction. But just as investment in farming has a positive impact so too will the withdrawal of investment and indeed that is already apparent in the building sector in many areas. Particularly with the failure to extend the Waste Management Scheme and allow farmers to complete planned on farm works that would have sustained many jobs over the short term in this difficult period.

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