I and my Department engage on a regular basis with the various national banks and the Banking Federation on credit related matters including the availability of new capital for on-farm investments. I am aware that, like many other sectors, farmers can find it difficult to get investment credit due to the stricter assessments introduced as a result of the recent banking crisis. Ensuring that farmers have access to financing for farm investments is a crucial issue for me as ongoing new investment will have a major role to play in improving overall competitiveness at farm level by improving productivity and thus help contribute in meeting our ambitious targets set out in Food Harvest 2020.
Despite some concerns expressed about lack of investment credit, a relatively small number of cases from the agri-food sector have come before the Credit Review Office. I would encourage farmers to make use of this system should they have difficulty in accessing credit for farm investments. I am aware that a number of banks have designed new credit facilities specifically tailored for the agri-food sector in recent times. In addition, the most recent Central Bank data for lending to SMEs, covering Q1 2013, shows that the primary agriculture sector was top of the list in value terms for new lending to SMEs during the quarter. With a total of €149m, it was far ahead of the second placed wholesale/retail sector on €92m and represented 32%, excluding Financial Intermediation and Property Services, of all such new lending during the period.
I will continue to meet with relevant lenders on a regular basis to discuss agri credit issues including the need for them to continue to ensure new credit lines are available for investments in the farming sector.