THE CEO of IFAC, John Donoghue, commenting on Tuesday’s Budget 2019 announcement, said that it is, ‘in many ways, a missed opportunity for the Irish farming sector.’
He said: ‘While there are some measures announced that are welcome, such as the extension of income averaging, overall there is a strong sense in the sector of an opportunity missed. 2018 was an enormously challenging year for farmers.
‘With the combination of severe weather conditions, the fodder crisis, price and income volatility, spiralling costs and a major cash-flow squeeze across the board, farmers have had a very difficult year,’ Mr Donoghue pointed out.
‘There had been some optimism that a significant package of supports would be announced in the budget to help the sector face into 2019, a year many anticipate will be one of the most challenging yet with Brexit and CAP reform on the horizon. No such package was delivered and farmers are understandably concerned about the future.’
Shortcomings that IFAC has identified include the fact that the low-interest loan scheme announced for farmers will only apply to capital projects and cannot be used for working capital, the area where farmers need the most help; no de-stocking tax relief measure announced to help farmers who were hoping for some targeted support to help them face into another winter of feed shortages and rising costs; the much-anticipated PRSI measures to help address the chronic labour shortage in the farming sector failed to materialise and so farmers will again struggle this year to attract labour into the sector.
Fianna Fáil TD Kevin O’Keeffe said that the €40 payment per suckler cow to farmers – a key demand of his party – will greatly increase cash-flow in small family farms and, while more support will be required in the future, it’s an important first step. He also acknowledged beneficial changes to the Fair Deal Scheme.
IFA president Joe Healy said the Budget 2019 was some acknowledgment of the income difficulties in agriculture, but the upcoming major issues of Brexit and CAP will require much more government commitment and support for farming. He said the funding of €20m through a pilot scheme for suckler farmers was a recognition of the income crisis in the sector, but the level of funding was disappointing and more needed to be done to help sustain the suckler herd.
President of the ICMSA, Pat McCormack, claimed that it is quite clear now that the current Government simply does not understand the scale of the challenges being faced by the farming sector, either in terms of the 50% fall in income predicted for this current year or the transformational challenges that could follow Brexit next March.
ICSA president Patrick Kent said that many farmers would be amazed at the substantial increase in afforestation money compared to what is being directed at livestock farming: ‘There is a serious question over blanket sitka spruce plantations, both in terms of climate change and impact on rural communities.’