These proposals will form the bedrock of agriculture in the coming years. In every Dáil debate, Question Time and discussion outside the House, everyone has remarked that agriculture will be one of the main driving forces of economic recovery and will lead to export-led growth. The industry will play a pivotal role in Ireland’s future. In this context, it is important that we examine yesterday’s proposals from Brussels. Deputy Kirk and I were outside when they were announced. Judging from the reaction in the European Parliament and many farming organisations, there is a great deal of anxiety about the future.
As the Minister rightly stated, the 2014 versus 2011 issue could lead to significant distortions in the land rental market. It is important the matter be clarified as soon as possible, as it has been highlighted in today’s media commentary. That the language used in the document launched yesterday was far from clear means farmers who are making decisions do not have certainty. This is an important issue.
At a time when there is food scarcity and food security is required, the 7% set-aside will need to be highlighted. Taking a cross-section of the farmers with whom I spoke yesterday and today, these proposals will affect some people badly due to stacked entitlements. I refer in particular to cattle farmers. They built up good entitlements in the 2000-02 reference period before consolidating their holdings and making prudent decisions on the management of their farms. We are trying to support the high-end beef industry in every way, shape and form, but the farmers in question have significant concerns about the proposals.
There has been much discussion about the proposals’ contents and there is a great deal of text involved. It is almost as if the EU is attempting to micro-manage agriculture down to the minutest detail in each member state. The Department, the Minister, his officials and the Oireachtas must be proactive in getting the best deal for Irish agriculture. Farmers feel threatened by the proposals.
Various documents on the 30% to be set aside for greening were leaked in August and subsequently, but the actual proposals are different. Irish agriculture must take this issue seriously. We could set back much of the good work that has been achieved in recent years. We must ensure the vulnerable ends of the sector that we have been trying to protect through various schemes are not kicked back further by this document. It will challenge the people who built up substantial entitlements during the previous reference period and consolidated their landholdings.
We do not have time to digest every aspect of the proposals. Having listened to Members of the European Parliament and a broad spectrum of people yesterday, there are concerns. While it is only a negotiating document, it must be changed radically to ensure it dovetails with what the Irish want from their agriculture industry, given how pivotal the industry’s role will be.