A payment of up to €300 per cow/calf pair for suckler farmers is the flagship policy of a Sinn Féin alternative budget that supports family farmers, protects the environment and delivers an economic boost to our rural communities.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Matt Carthy TD detailed the measures in his party’s Alternative Budget proposals for that department.
Commenting from the Carlow Kilkenny constituency on Friday where he was meeting with farmers alongside Kathleen Funchion TD, Teachta Carthy said that Budget 2022 offers an opportunity to address the imbalances and unfairness that have been the hallmark of Irish agriculture for decades and to finally put family farmers at the centre of agriculture policy.
Teachta Carthy said:
“Sinn Féin is committed to delivering a vision for Irish agriculture that will secure fair prices and a fair CAP for family farmers, while also ensuring that there is fair play in terms of the demands on them as they meet increasingly stringent obligations in protecting the environment and biodiversity.
“Most Irish farmers have risen to meet the challenges of climate action but too often, rather than being supported, they have been burdened by regulation and penalties. All the while their margins have been shrinking and our most sustainable sectors are also the least profitable.
“If we are serious about protecting both agriculture and the environment then Budget 2022 must begin to shift policy towards one that directs financial supports to farming families operating in the most sustainable sectors, rigorously pursuing a premiumisation model, addressing market imbalances, facilitating entry of smaller farmers to organic schemes, revitalising farm forestry and promoting diversification.
“Our proposals for Budget 2022 would result in an increased spend of almost €220 million within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, a 12% increase, bringing the total departmental spend to over €2 billion.
“Sinn Féin are proposing a flagship Suckler Cow payment, recognising that the suckler brand is the cornerstone of Ireland’s international reputation as a premium beef producer and the driver of economic activity in many rural communities.
“Despite the fact that our suckler farmers are the most sustainable beef producers, they are also the least profitable. In fact, many consistently operate at a loss.
“Other forms of beef production, such as that from factory-controlled feedlots, are much less sustainable and provide less benefit to rural communities. But there is no distinction from government in terms of the supports provided or the marketing of these very different products.
“Sinn Féin wants to support our suckler farmers through a specific financial package that would be coupled with an ambitious marketing programme that specifies the unique benefits suckler beef presents to consumers and the environment.
“We would, of course, prevent the distortion of the market by inferior beef products so we would reject EU trade deals such as the Mercosur Agreement that would displace this product with environmentally damaging beef from abroad.
“Our budget would deliver a suckler cow payment of €300 on the first 15 cow/calf pairs per farm, €150 on the next 15, and €80 for a further 70.
“A core difficulty in the Irish beef sector has been the dominance of a small number of large processors and retails. This has resulted in a situation where the primary producer is often exploited and becomes the only link in the market chain to operate at a loss.
“We are committed to delivering maximum transparency in the sector, particularly in levelling the relationship between farmers and factories.
“In Budget 2021, government allocated €1 million to establish a National Food Ombudsman. Not only has that office yet to be established, the unit in the Department of Agriculture has fewer staff today than when it was formed in May of this year, it has not dealt with a single complaint, and it has not spent a single euro of its allocation outside of those staff.
“Sinn Féin will not leave money unspent when it comes to tackling Unfair Trading Practices or cartel-like behaviour in the meat processing sector.
“We would establish the Office of the Independent Meat Regulator, ensure that it is adequately staffed and launch an information campaign to apprise farmers on their rights, and encourage them to report unfair trading practices in the confidence that action will be taken to address them.
“In further support of our beef farmers, we would also immediately begin the work to secure a dedicated suckler Protected Geographic Indicator to assist ensure that this premium product yields a premium price.
“Our sheep farmers have endured a tumultuous number of years.
“Alongside the challenges faced by the wider agricultural community and society in general, they have borne the brunt of decreased demand for wool on international markets.
“Lamb and mutton prices are subject to extreme volatility. Wool, once a valuable commodity, has become an expense as the price yielded covers shearing only without profit. This crisis also poses risks to animal welfare should the cost of shearing become unviable.
“In government, Sinn Féin will champion the development of a domestic wool industry.
“However, ongoing depressed prices today and risks to animal welfare require adequate response immediately, and Sinn Féin’s alternative budget provides for an emergency €5million “woolen sector” aid package in 2022.
“The Sheep Welfare Scheme itself provides critical financial support to farmers while also delivering on beneficial flock welfare measures. Sheep farmers generally operate in peripheral areas where they are rightly expected to adhere to strenuous rules regarding environmental and biodiversity protection.
“They also face the same challenges as other farmers in gaining a fair price for their produce, while the value they provide to animal welfare through the Sheep Welfare Scheme is undervalued through current payments.
“In recognition of these facts Sinn Féin would double the Sheep Welfare Scheme payment to €20 per breeding ewe.
Organics and Forestry
“The two areas where the interests of Irish farming and climate action can align, organics and forestry, are two areas where the Irish government is failing miserably. It is telling that these two areas fall under the auspices of a Green Party minister.
“Government investment in the organic sector has been woefully inadequate but reflective of a conversion target that lacks any sense of ambition.
“The European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy has set a target of 25% of land being organically farmed, or in conversion, by 2030.
“The Irish government target for the same period is just 7.5% – a target based upon an EU average already two years out of date at the time it was set in 2020.
“Government prioritisation of organics for larger holdings and the exclusion of farmers in agri-environmental schemes from the Organic Farming Scheme have crystallised the lack of ambition and vision in this area.
“In our alternative budget, Sinn Féin provide for an unparalleled investment in organics in 2022, delivering €15 million in new investment to dramatically accelerate conversion and provide ring-fenced funding for organics in state agencies such as Bord Bia while seeking to reform the scheme to remove conditions that discourage participation.
“We would also redirect resources in the department to address the current crisis in the forestry sector to resolve the current licencing backlog while also ensuring that the new forestry strategy promotes the planting of native broad-leaf forestry and incentivises new farmers to enter afforestation.
Agri Environmental Scheme
“The Results-Based Environment-Agri Pilot Project (REAP) was intended to serve as an indication of what an agri-environmental scheme might look like under the new CAP.
“In this context, farmers have been left disappointed in the first instance as a result of the small number of places available on the scheme. Equally, increased scheme input costs coupled with reduced overall payments in real terms have left many participating farmers less than impressed by their experience.
“If farmers are to be to the fore in addressing climate change, they require an agri-environmental scheme that works for them. No farmer should be discouraged or prevented from delivering for the environment or reducing emissions due to a lack of political will.
“The first step in addressing these deficiencies is expanding this agri-environmental pilot to accommodate as many farmers as possible.
“Sinn Féin would expand places on the REAP scheme to over 11,000 in 2022, while seeking to address the remaining deficiencies in advance of the new agri-environmental scheme in 2023.
“Irish farmers have been clear that they want a REPS type scheme that is accessible, that incentivises necessary climate measures and is rewarding for participants without unnecessary bureaucracy. That is Sinn Féin’s objective also.
Areas of natural constraint
“The Areas of Natural Constraint scheme plays a vital role in supporting local economies and the fabric of rural communities.
“It remains a crucial support for farmers in areas where the land itself makes the process of farming more challenging and less profitable, by helping farmers to stay on the land in peripheral areas and offshore islands.
“Sinn Féin would increase the budget for Areas of Natural Constraint next year by €25 million and deliver this through targeted front-loaded payments.
“Sinn Féin are committed to delivering an effective animal welfare strategy that ensures that robust rules are in place to tackle cruelty and neglect and that these rules are strictly enforced.
“Our budget would increase the allocation in Animal Welfare Grants in 2022 by €1.8 million, delivering an unprecedented €5 million in funding, more than doubling that of 2020.
“Sinn Féin in government will also demand that all funding to statutory agencies and other bodies, including grants to the horse racing and greyhound sectors, is subject to full transparency and accountability for all expenditure, while also being subject to the enforcement of strict animal welfare standards.
“Farm Assist provides vital financial support to farmers who operate at a loss.
“Their value in terms of maintaining what are usually smaller, diverse, biodiversity-friendly farms and the cohesion of rural communities warrants a specific scheme.
“Farm Assist has been the mechanism by which supports have been delivered to these poorer farmers although many recipients have long complained that it is overly complicated. Government has committed to reviewing the scheme and we will press for that review to be concluded without delay.
“Farming must be recognised as a valued occupation, yet the current Farm Assist disregards are not equitable when considered in line with other income supports administered by the Department of Social Welfare.
“In conjunction with our spokesperson on Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, we have secured a commitment that Sinn Féin would increase the income disregards to 50% at a cost of €6 million euro in line with similar supports while farm assist recipients would also benefit from our pledge to increase all working age social welfare payments rates by €10.
Delivering change for family farmers
“Our alternative budget measures are additional to all pre-committed expenditure including funding provided for ELS and commits to the roll-over of all CAP Pillar 2 schemes at current rates.
“Sinn Féin is the party of change, the party that will build a better, stronger and United Ireland.
“In our promise to put families and workers first we recognise family farmers as a core component. Our alternative budget reflects that.
“Those budget measures proposed by Sinn Féin, if coupled with maximum redistributive measures in the roll-out of the next CAP, could provide the basis in which to provide a secure future for our farming communities, the environment and wider rural Ireland.”