By Tommy Moyles
THERE were a number of stand-out concerns voiced by a delegation of officers from West Cork IFA met when they met with the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue last week.
They were ahead of the game, it turned out, with the Minister announcing the opening of a month-long Cap consultation the following day.
Minister McConalogue wants to make the consultation as accessible as possible. Those interested will have a chance to contribute their thoughts on Ireland’s Cap Strategic Plan 2023 to 2027.
Following the meeting at the Ford homestead farm in Ballinascarthy, Donal O’Donovan, chairman of West Cork IFA, said it was a constructive meeting. They put a number of concerns they had to the Minister about Cap, nitrates derogation, and creating an economically viable sector that will encourage succession and vibrant West Cork communities.
The Minister heard of the requirement for a good environmental scheme, especially in areas of more marginal land. According to the IFA delegation, this was mentioned as a significant issue, backed up by further environmental and animal welfare schemes from Cap pillar 2 funds – all critically important in West Cork to keep rural communities going, especially in the sheep and beef sectors.
Mandatory eco schemes funded from money previously paid to farmers is one of the major changes proposed, and the delegation stressed to the minister that at the very least they get back what money they put in. Speaking afterwards, Mr O’Donovan said the eco scheme in pillar 1 is new. ‘This means 25% could be taken out of what farmers would have previously received in their basic payment,’ he explained. ‘It’s going to be mandatory now for farmers to do a suite of environmental measures to get this back. We’d be looking for at least getting back the money that’s contributed. Everything that needs to be done will come at a cost. We’re trying to introduce people to eco schemes and this appears more of a stick than a carrot approach.’
The change of delivery model for Cap payments was another area they viewed with a bit of trepidation. Until now the money was paid using a compliance-based approach, this is changing to a performance-based model and West Cork IFA are apprehensive about this change.
‘We’d be concerned that the money won’t come at a time we’re used to,’ said Mr O’Donovan. ‘Usually farmers receive 70% of their payment in October and the balance in December. Now, with an eco-scheme involved, is there going to be an inspection element involved? That money is critically important to suckler farmers who sell their weanlings in the autumn and have the payments coming at the same time.’ Outside of Cap, the IFA officers highlighted their views on how finely balanced Ireland’s nitrates derogation is. The Minister was told any removal of the derogation could have a wide-ranging effect on the wider West Cork economy.
They stressed how farmers are engaged with improving water quality through participation in the agricultural sustainability support and advice programme.
Minister McConalogue heard how the infrastructure of farms in West Cork was more fragmented than elsewhere in the country, and herd sizes are below the national average.