In relation to alternatives to livestock production, the production of cereals, crops and horticulture, as well as forestry, are important sectors in Irish agriculture and the Programme for Government commits to continuing to support their ongoing development.
The cereals sector in Ireland is a major contributor of high quality grain to the food and drinks industry and is a key source of feed and seed production. It is a sector with great tradition in Irish agriculture and holds significant potential for the future. My Department has introduced a number of specific support measures for the tillage sector in recent years. In 2015, a Voluntary Coupled Protein Aid Scheme was introduced providing a fund of €3 million with the aim of sustaining production of plant proteins to a level of 12,000 hectares. It is proposed to continue with the VCS for the CAP transitional period for tillage farmers. Furthermore, my Department is considering the continuation of the VCS for protein crops in the next CAP in order to promote the growing of native protein crops.
The Tillage Capital Investment Scheme (TCIS), under TAMS II, covers specific areas of investment including Minimum Disturbance Tillage Equipment, Sprayers, Fertiliser Spreaders and increasing Grain Storage and Drying capacity. Over €16m has been paid to farmers to date under the Scheme. In addition, over €7m has been paid to farmers for tillage investments under the Young Farmer’s Capital Investment Scheme as part of TAMS II.
The horticultural sector operates in an open market, increasingly international and competitive. Ongoing development of horticulture is dependent on its ability to maintain and extend its competitive advantages in this environment. In spite of these challenges the industry has seen a growth in output value of some 30% in the 10 years since 2010. This growth has been assisted by the strong investment by the sector in new technologies, including public investment. My Department operates the Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Commercial Horticulture Sector, focusing on small to medium sized enterprises. This Scheme is intended to assist in the development of the horticulture sector, including beekeeping, by grant aiding capital investments in specialised Horticultural plant and equipment. It aims to facilitate environmentally friendly practices, promote the diversification of on-farm activities, improve the quality of products and improve working conditions. For 2021, the budget for this Scheme was significantly increased to €9 million.
My Department promotes the transition to organic tillage and horticulture farming by providing the highest organic payment rates for conversion and maintenance for tillage and horticulture. In addition, under TAMS II, a dedicated capital investment scheme (Organic Capital Investment Scheme (OCIS)) is in place providing support for organic tillage farmers for a wide range of equipment and structures.
Forestry and agro-forestry offer significant opportunities for farm diversification, and my Department supports forestry through planting grants, premia and various schemes to incentivise increased planting, particularly to encourage the planting of broadleaf species.
Negotiations on the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) are underway and the CAP Strategic Plan will provide in excess of €12 billion in funding to farmers and rural communities in the period from 2023 to 2027. In the interim, support continues under the Rural Development Programme, with payments in excess of €1.7 billion in 2020. My Department will continue to support cereals, crops and horticulture with appropriate supports under CAP.
The agri-food sector has benefited from an approach to strategic planning through the development of 10-year stakeholder-led strategies, updated every five years. Since their inception 20 years ago, up to the current Food Wise 2025 plan, these strategies have ensured that the sector has a coherent, stakeholder-led vision and strategy to underpin the sector's continued development and all sectors are considered, including cereals, crops and horticulture. Currently, a Committee representative of the sector is developing the agri-food strategy to 2030.
The development of the strategy is a commitment of the Programme for Government, to provide, “an ambitious blueprint for the industry for the years ahead, adding value sustainably in the agri-food sector into the future and supporting family farms and employment in rural Ireland”. The strategy is expected to be published in the first half of this year and will include actions for cereals, crops and horticulture in the period to 2030. The Strategy is also expected to look at the potential for diversification into organic production, as well as the potential for farmers to diversify further into forestry production.