The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has predicted a €106m underspend in the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. President of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), Joe Healy, said that it is clear that while some schemes will spend most of their allocation, there will, inevitably, be underspends in other schemes by its completion date.
“While there have been well publicised annual underspends in the Rural Development Programme (RDP), the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has always said that this will be made up by increased spending in the later years of the programme. However, our analysis shows that as we are into the second half of the programme that this will not happen and there is a likelihood that there will be a significant underspend,” he said. If this is the case, then reallocation of funding must happen, said Mr Healy.
“With the Government looking at a financial surplus of over €3bn heading into the next Budget, the funding for schemes should be increased in 2019,” he said. Additional payments for suckler cows, in line with the IFA campaign for a payment of €200 per suckler cow, should also be made, Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) funding should be increased and Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS) should be widened to include additional items.
“The suckler cow sector badly needs a boost to protect and develop what is a vital national asset. Farmers need €200 per suckler cow. Following an IFA campaign, ANC payments were increased by €25m this year but that still leaves farmers in ANC areas short of where the payments rates were before the cuts during the economic downturn.
“There is no excuse for the Minister not to act and it would be indefensible to allow funding to go unspent when we have a full-blown income crisis at farm level,” he said.
The current RDP programme is worth in excess of €4bn, between a combination of over €2bn from EU money and the remainder from national funds. Rural development measures are vital to farmers as they provide key income supports, reward farmers who provide public goods through schemes like GLAS, and give vital investment support for farmers to modernise and become more competitive through TAMS, according to Mr Healy.
Commenting on the IFA analysis, national rural development chairman, Joe Brady, said that annual underspends that have become the norm in recent years, must not be repeated going forward. He insisted that payments to all schemes must be made on time as delays are causing huge cash flow difficulties on farms. He said that the IFA will be insisting that the next RDP post-2020 is well funded. The IFA wants the annual ANC budget to increase to €300m; the maximum payment under GLAS to be doubled to €10,000 with higher payments for farmers who have designated land; a wide-ranging farm investment scheme; and a retirement scheme for farmers who pass the farm to the next generation.
Mr Brady also said that Minister Creed should ensure that farmers retain as much of the RDP funding as possible, as currently there is significant leakage to facilitators, planners and other agencies in the application process for some schemes.