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Budget 2010: Agricultural investment would give ‘results within months’ – IFA candidate

KLIKENNY’S candidate for the presidency of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has expressed concern that last week’s Budget confirmed cuts to major programmes promoting development in the agricultural sector.

John Bryan, a suckler farmer and cattle finisher from Inistioge was disappointed with cuts to the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) and the halving of grants being paid under the Suckler Welfare Scheme.

“What was one of the best environmental schemes in Europe – the REPS scheme – resulted in huge improvement in farmyards; it was good for the environment and for the visual appearance of the country, which aided tourism,” explained Bryan, “but under the Bord Snip Nua report, no new entrants are being permitted to the scheme.”

REPS is seen as an important support scheme for up to 60,000 farmers nationwide, and the third iteration of the scheme is due to finish next year. The scheme is to be replaced with a new “agri-environmental scheme”, details of which are yet to be outlined by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food.

“Any euro spent on REPS is returned and spent in the local community,” Bryan said. “It helps keep a lot of farmers viable. Kilkenny has a strong agricultural community with large employment in the county’s meat factories, cattle marts, and in major dairy firms like Glanbia… any euro spent on the scheme locally helps create jobs in Kilkenny. I’m concerned that the lack of funding for schemes like REPS and the Suckler Welfare Scheme means a threat to jobs. It will have a long-term impact on the viability of small and medium-sized farmers, and will definitely cost jobs in the area.”

Payments under the Suckler Welfare Scheme, originally set at €80 for cows that completed seven measures laid out by the Department, have been halved to €40 per cow.

Elsewhere, the budget for Food Safety and Animal Health has been slashed by 26%, a move Bryan believes will have significant impact. “We fought for rules on ‘country of origin’ labelling and it took us four years before the laws were introduced, but not a single euro has been spent on enforcement… Cutbacks in this area are very short-sighted.

“We need to put more into promotion and long-term investment. Agriculture is a sector that has the capacity to grow jobs and maintain levels of hard currency coming into the Irish economy.”

Bryan argued that with the current economic situation, the Government needed to be target any sector that could create sustainable and long-term employment, insisting that investment in agriculture would offer a “quicker delivery” of cash and jobs that any other area, adamant that a 16 per cent cut in funding from a Department overseeing “a sector capable of creating jobs and helping the economy recover itself” was an example of poor long-term economic planning.

He asserted that agriculture could stimulate economic recovery “much quicker than investment in banking services or even tourism, which is dependant on recovery elsewhere in the world. Even a small investment in agriculture would give a result within months.”

The Inistioge man also attacked cutbacks in agricultural education which would have a pronounced effect on the sustainability of the sector.

“When I started farming in 1980, the country was poor, but even then there were local agricultural offices in medium towns like Castlecomer and Thomastown, let alone in the city. Closing agricultural colleges will have a serious long-term impact – in a recession, most countries invest in education, but on the whole that was lacking.

“I would have liked to see a further injection of investment into agricultural education and training. There’s a generation of young farms who’d have a lot to contribute to the sector and it’s essential that they get every help – whether it be education, training, or the restoration of the installation grant, to promote the transition.

“Overall, it’s very clear that the Government needs to invest in sustainable jobs and we didn’t see that very much in the Budget. I know it’s not easy to cut €4bn and spend money at the same time, but we need long-term vision and decision, even if it affects short-term cash flow. I didn’t see much value for money long-term planning.”

Balloting in the Presidential election comes to an end today (Wednesday) with the results being formally announced when votes are counted next Monday, December 21. Bryan is one of three candidates for the Association’s top job.