Government’s CAP plan has to reflect the realities of farming now – not what was happening 20 years ago

Michael Brady.

Agricultural Consultant and managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents. The Lodge, Lee Road, Cork.

Tel: 021- 45 45 120     email:

1st Published in The Farming Independent 02/02/2021

Never before has the relationship between politics, science and the mood of the people been more evident than in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Government decisions on lockdowns to contain the virus are a careful political calculation based on the scientific advice offered by The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and in gauging the mood of the general populous.

On the face of it, this appears to be a credible, democratic way to make decisions, but the problem is the in word ‘democratic. I say this because first and foremost in most politician’s minds when making big decisions is how it will affect their re-election prospects at the next election.

A classic example if this is the current spike in cases of the virus, the NEPHET advice in early December was to move to a more severe lockdown including a ban on foreign travel. However, government decided to not to ruin Christmas and it deferred the severe lockdown until after the Christmas period. No politician wants to be remembered as the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Agriculture faces a similar dilemma with the upcoming EU CAP Reform. Our national CAP Strategic Plan for the distribution of CAP funds in the period 2023-2027 must be must be submitted to the European Commission by February 2022. Stakeholders across the country are presently busy preparing submissions for government to try and influence our plan.

When the new CAP regime rolls out in 2023 we will be just two years away from a general election. The big question is, will the good ideas submitted in the stakeholder submissions be taken into account or will there a reluctance on the part of government to tackle the thorny issues around distribution of CAP funds for short term political gain?   

The European Commission has stated nine high level objectives of the next CAP which are broadly focused on climate change, environment, animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance issues.

We already know is the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) entitlements will be replaced by the Basic Income Support for Sustainability Scheme (BISS). There will be a new element called Eco-Schemes which will replace the greening element of the existing CAP. These new Eco-Scheme measures will account for somewhere between 20-30% of a farmer’s annual pillar 1 direct payment. The Eco-Schemes will be optional so that the farmer can choose to opt out and take a reduced payment.

The EU recently published a list of potential agricultural practices that farmers could be paid to carry out under Eco-Schemes in the new reform. I am confident our government will come up with a plan to satisfy the EU Commission with suitable measures, but will they address the thorny issues that bedevil EU CAP payments in Ireland. They are as follows:

  1. Farmer Perception of Payments

Some farmers farm subsidies not land, this practice and mentality must stop for the benefit of active farmers, the authenticity of regime and the image of the industry. The CAP payments are not an income support, that’s the remit of the Department of Social Protection. Today’s CAP payments are for the purchase of environmental goods, food biosecurity and to compensate European farmers for the additional cost of producing the best food on the planet.

  • Active Farmers

Many farmers will go to the ends of the earth to protect their ‘farm payments’. This can often result is poor farming practices or ‘paper farming’ units. I refer in particular to those renting hills and mountains with minimal numbers of sheep, small tillage farmers who don’t even know what crops they are sowing and the sale of grass by farmers who haven’t even purchased the fertiliser. The land in these farm holdings should really be farmed in an official partnership/share-farming arrangement to drawdown payments or else be leased out. The mentality of holding onto ‘farm payments’ at all costs is generated out of a fear of losing or of never gaining access to the payments again. This could be addressed by prioritising such farmers in the national reserve.  

  • End the Link with 2000-2003 CAP Payments

The basis for most of today’s Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) entitlements can be traced back to the farming programme on those farms in 2000, 2001 and 2002. That’s over 20 years ago and those payments do not reflect the present-day farming programme on most farms. A movement to full convergence (everybody with the same payment per hectare) combined with the Eco-Scheme top up proposed is an opportunity to adjust payments to reflect today’s farming programmes.

  • Arm-Chair Farmers

Perhaps the most sensitive topic of all, what should happen to entitlements/ farm payments when a farmer retires from farming by leasing out or selling his farm. These farmers are commonly known as ‘arm-chair farmers’.

Presently many farmers planning to retire are holding back on leasing out their holdings until they know the basis for allocating new BISS entitlements, this should not be the case. It is preventing the farmer from retiring and it is holding back an active farmer from driving on their farm business. For those who choose to retire now the legal profession are busy composing audacious clauses for insertion into land leases to ensure the payments come back at the end of the present CAP!! Others are pretending to be farming a hectare of land even though they are retired in the hope they will keep their payments, that worked in the last reform.  I predict these cases will end up in courts in a few years time, battling to see who actually owns the payment. This issue must be addressed.

Farm payments in whatever guise should be paid to active farmers not arm-chair farmers. I have no issue with retiring farms leasing out their farm payments in a long-term lease and getting 100pc paid back annually tax free for as long as those payments last. If the leasee knows that first day it can be reflected that in the price offered or paid per acre for the land. It will also better inform a landlord and remove unnecessary concern.

Farmers have to accept that when they retire they will lose their farm payments at the next reform.          

  • Policing and Penalties

The policing of the rules and regulations for drawdown of farm payments and the subsequent system of penalties is certainly in need of an upgrade. It is presently in the remit of the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine to police the schemes and payments, perhaps it is time for change.

An inspectorate independent of the Department, with clear penalties for non-compliance published for all to see would, in my opinion be a of benefit to both farmers and the Department. The present regime of applying a percentage penalty for non-compliance favours those with low payments and penalises and those with larger payments. Surely a mixture of fixed penalties and percentage penalties would be more appropriate. Bigger more complex cases would proceed via the court system.

In summary EU CAP payments have severed this country well, we are the poster child for all the new entrant countries from the Eastern block. So, government cease this opportunity and submit an ambitious CAP Strategic Plan for this reform and the longer term beyond and let our world class active farmers lead Europe into sustainable farming future.