Beyond dairying, the future of full-time and/or productive farmers in Ireland hangs in the balance.

On Wednesday, in outlining the details within his CAP Strategic Plan (CSP), Minister McConalogue presented a policy framework that will decimate full-time and productive suckler, sheep, beef and tillage farmers.

It is now clear is that the minister and ultimately the Government’s vision for the low-income livestock sector is to limit production to small-scale highly extensive part-time farms.

On these farms, weanlings and lambs will be produced as a byproduct of delivering an environmental dividend.

But rather than implement properly funded schemes to adequately support farmers in this restructuring, the Government's strategy is to leave productive suckler, beef and sheep farmers slowly wither on the vine by strangling the sector of critical production-linked supports.

It is now clear is that the minister and ultimately the Government’s vision for the low-income livestock sector is to limit production to small-scale highly extensive part-time farms

In the next CAP we will see as much financial support being allocated into the organic sector as directly on to suckler farms and over 2.5 times more than directly targeted at sheep farms.

Meanwhile, productive suckler, sheep and beef farmers will see their payments slashed in order to channel increase supports to smaller farmers through frontloading.

Asset stripping

To highlight this is not to dispute the need for these farmers to receive increased financial supports, but to expose the flawed policy of asset-stripping the productive farming sector to fund such measures.

In many instances this same cohort of farmers will be called upon to fund the flat rate payment under eco-schemes.

They will also be discriminated against under the new suckler scheme with the rate of payment reducing after 10 cows.

The fact that the scheme only has funding for 400,000 cows is perhaps the clearest indication as to the Government’s policy objective for the future of the suckler national herd.

The question now is will this strategy be accepted by farmers?

Unfortunately, as demonstrated on Wednesday, the farm lobby has failed to protect productive farmers who rely so heavily on CAP supports, in some cases for up to 150% of their income.

The policy direction in relation to CAP both at EU and now national level has been allowed to pivot away from supporting food production to delivering environmental goods.

Again, to challenge this is not to ignore the role farmers can play in tackling environmental issues and the need for this to be recognised financially. But to have allowed new environmental measures and ambitions be funded by simply taking CAP support from productive farmers represents a huge failing.


The core of the problem stems back to the fact that the voice of farmers was largely silent last summer when it came to ensuring that Brussels recognised the need to support the increased environmental ambition for agriculture through new funding streams.

The two obvious sources were the EU recovery fund and Just Transition fund.

While both funds were focused on assisting member states in their green transition, the need to support agriculture was largely ignored.

In contrast, billions of euro in support was pumped into helping the fossil fuel and energy intensive industries to go green.

As the member state most exposed to the green transition of agriculture, Ireland and Irish farmers have ended up suffering the heaviest penalty from agriculture being excluded from these funding streams.

Similarly the voice of farmers has also been silent in relation to how the €1bn Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund could be woven into a policy framework that would support productive farmers.

Ring-fencing €500m from this fund would have generated a meaningful suckler scheme that could have supported farm incomes while helping to restructure the sector. Unfortunately, despite our beef sector being most exposed to Brexit, access to this support seems to be slipping further away.

But instead of putting forward coherent policy positions that would have allowed farmers access these new green funding streams policymakers both at EU and national level were given a free hand to asset-strip the productive farming sector

They have been allowed to do so in the complete absence of any economic assessment showing the impact on the livelihoods of this cohort of farmers and in the absence of any discussion around future food prices.

The lack of farmer-led policy and economic modelling has left the pitch clear for Minster McConalogue to shape agricultural policy with one eye on votes rather than with a clear vision for the future of the sector.

If farmers are finally going to start to influence the direction of travel in this CAP reform they need to quickly put coherent policy positions in front of the Minster – policy that is aligned to EU objectives but that continues to underpin farm incomes and supported by economic modelling.

Should this not materialise and the current policy direction continue, then we should be clear on the outcome – beyond dairying, the future for productive farming is bleak.