Bud­get funds needed to stem EU’s loss of 1,000 farms a day

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COMMENT - Stephen Cado­gan

Re­viv­ing the failed gen­er­a­tional re­newal in Euro­pean agri­cul­ture is one of the good rea­sons why mem­ber states should strive to main­tain the EU’s agri­cul­ture spend­ing. The EU is los­ing 1,000 farms each day. In 2005, there were 14.7 mil­lion farms; in 2013, it was only 10.5m, and the num­ber now is about 10m. There was also a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of young farm­ers, and in the amount of land held by young farm­ers, from 2005 to 2013. Euro­pean Court of Au­di­tors mem­bers have warned there is no gen­er­a­tional re­newal in EU farming, a “very se­ri­ous” prob­lem in EU agri­cul­ture. It could quickly get worse, if the feared re­duc­tion in the bud­get for the Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy ma­te­ri­alises. How­ever, re­cent com­ments by EU Bud­get Com­mis­sioner Gün­ther Oet­tinger pointed to a plan to main­tain CAP spend­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Ir­ish CAP ex­pert Alan Matthews, the EU Com­mis­sion is likely to pro­pose a plan that shields the CAP bud­get from fur­ther cuts. How­eve r , that would re­quire ad­di­tional gross cont r i b u t i o n s f r o m m em b e r states, sub­stan­tial in some cases, says Matthews.

The EU bud­get must ul­ti­mately be agreed unan­i­mously by all mem­ber states a n d th e i r n a t i o n a l p a rl i a - ments, and gain the ap­proval of a ma­jor­ity in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. If mem­ber states and MEPs want to keep peo­ple on the land, they should agree to main­tain CAP fund­ing, and in­sist it be put to good use in main­tain­ing the EU’s farming pop­u­la­tion.

That is not hap­pen­ing curently, with Euro­pean C ou r t o f A u di t o r s f i g ure s s ho w i n g a m i l l i o n f e w e r farm­ers aged un­der 45 com­pared to 2005, with only 2.3m left in 2013. The num­ber of th­ese “young” farm­ers fell in all but two mem­ber states, Ro­ma­nia and Slove­nia, de­spite EU ex­pen­di­ture of €3.2 bil­lion to en­cour­age young farm­ers (in­clud­ing €6m for 800 young farm­ers in Ire­land). By 2013, 80% of Euro­pean farm­ers were over 45, and one third were older than 65. Only Aus­tria and Poland had more than 10% of their farm­ers aged un­der 35. Only Ger­many, Aus­tria and Poland had less than 10% of their farm­ers older than 65. In Ire­land, 6.3% were un­der 35, 26.5% were older than 65. Court of Au­di­tors mem­bers re­cently in Ire­land to ad­dress two Oireach­tas Com­mit­tees said the em­pha­sis must change to help older farm­ers t o m o ve o u t , r at h e r t h a n en­cour­age young farm­ers. They said gen­er­a­tional re­newal is bet­ter in Poland, thanks to a pen­sion fund for old farm­ers, and in Ger­many due to that coun­try bar­ring those still farming from claim­ing an old-age pen­sion. Since 2013, EU mea­sures have changed, but Court of Au­di­tors mem­bers warned that the new sys­tem of a 25% top-up in di­rect pay­ments for y o u n g fa rm er s h a s “m uc h dead weight”, with the ex­tra 25% of­ten go­ing to peo­ple who would have taken over the farms any­way, and prob­a­bly not many specif­i­cally tak­ing over a farm sim­ply be­cause of the 25% they will get for a fiveyear pe­riod.

Mem­ber states and MEPs n e g o t i at i n g th e E U bu dg et over com­ing months should also take the ad­vice from the Cour t of Au­di­tors to in­sist t h at th e C o m m o n A g r i cu ltural Pol­icy and its bud­get be i n s p i r e d by a l o n g e r - t e r m vi­sion of the de­vel­op­ment of E u ro p e a n ag ri cu lt ur e , n o t o ve r t h e E U ’ s s eve n - y e a r bud­get­ing pe­riod, but over 27 years.

This should in­clude a clear pol­icy for the fu­ture, vi­su­al­is­ing for ex­am­ple how many farms the EU should have in the long- term, and how big they should be.

Alan Matthews pre­dicts the CAP’s share of the EU bud­get will fall from 35% to 30% of the EU bud­get, but that out­come would leave the CAP bud­get broadly main­tained in nom­i­nal terms, and it now seems un­likely that bud­get pres­sures will be a driver of any m a j o r CA P ch a n g e s in t he next pe­riod.

B e c a u s e th e d i r e c t p a yments which make up more than 70% of it are not in­dexed to in­fla­tion, the CAP bud­get is not so de­mand­ing of an­nual in­creases. With that lee­way, it is time to start pay­ing farm­ers to re­tire, to make way for the new blood which is even more v i t a l fo r a g r i c u l t u r e th at bud­get eu­ros.

EU Court of Au­di­tors mem­bers re­cently in Ire­land to ad­dress two Oireach­tas Com­mit­tees said the em­pha­sis must change to help older farm­ers to move out, rather than en­cour­age young farm­ers

Water­ford For­est Owner Group AGM, Tea­gasc Of­fice, Dun­gar­van, 7.30pm. For­est own­ers or those in­ter­ested in plant­ing are wel­come (top­ics in­clude tax li­a­bil­i­ties when sell­ing tim­ber stand­ing, pro­cessed t i m b e r, o r w h e n s el l in g for­est land; in­her­i­tance tax; ash dieback; changes to es­tab­lish­ment grants and pre­mi­ums Can­celled: suck­ler farm­ers in­come cri­sis meet­ing sched­uled for tonight in Dun­man­way can­celled

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