Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Ceisteanna (2)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the national Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan and individual schemes his Department is designing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5762/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

One issue on which there is certainty is that there will be a new Common Agricultural Policy. Farmers need details of what that will involve and what new schemes are being developed to look after them into the future. That is particularly the case in regard to Pillar 1 because we know there will be changes involving a new environmental section to replace the greening measures. We need details of how that will work, particularly in the context of the current GLAS schemes. I ask the Minister to provide details of the plan. We need to address the nuts and bolts of the policy at this stage.

Under the draft CAP 2021-2027 proposals, each member state is required to submit a CAP strategic plan by 1 January 2020. The new delivery model proposed by the European Commission is performance-based. All schemes under Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 are to be delivered under a single plan. In recognition of the climate change challenges facing the EU and its international commitments in regard to climate action, the new CAP proposals outline a greater environmental ambition post 2020.

The development of the draft CAP strategic plan will be a complex process involving a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis, a needs assessment, scheme design, an ex ante evaluation including a strategic environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment. My Department is currently tendering for the ex ante evaluation of the draft plan, which is an integral part of the process.

Another key element is stakeholder and public consultation. My Department has concluded a series of external stakeholder events and sought public submissions on the draft CAP regulations in January 2018. I hosted a series of public meetings in February 2018 and a national consultative conference was held on 4 July with all key stakeholders following the publication of the Commission’s legislative proposals. The Department also held a series of meetings with key stakeholders.

The next stage of formal consultation is under consideration and its timing will be related to the progress of discussions on the proposals. This consultation may involve requests for written submissions, stakeholder forums and meetings with individual stakeholders. We expect to hold formal public consultation at several stages of the process.

In the meantime, the Department will continue to engage with relevant stakeholders and interest groups through existing forums and structures to update them on the progress of discussions and to hear their views. Most recently, on 22 January my officials updated Oireachtas colleagues at a joint meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Rural and Community Development.

My Department will continue to work towards meeting the 1 January 2020 deadline in tandem with continuing discussions between member states and the European institutions regarding the funding of the next CAP and the detail of the current draft CAP regulations, including in regard to the CAP strategic plan.

The Minister is basically telling us that a tendering process is in place to appoint a consultancy firm to develop the plan and that it will be the subject of consultation. There is less than a year to get the contingency plan ready and we need to act quickly to get something in place. I ask the Minister to provide detail on what is envisaged, particularly in regard to Pillar 1. Many farmers have concerns about whether regard will continue to be had to reference years that date from 20 years ago. Will that continue to be the case? Will payments be based on the level of activity engaged in almost a quarter of a century previously? A greater level of certainty is required. What will be done in regard to convergence and how quickly will that be progressed? As the Minister is aware, many farmers currently receive a very low basic payment based on what they were doing in the year 2000. Those payments must be increased in order to allow farmers to protect the family farm.

On biodiversity, the Minister mentioned the issue of greening and environmental concerns. Some farm organisations have raised, for instance, the issue of the keeping of bees as a livestock unit. Has that been considered?

The Deputy will have a further minute to respond.

Are there matters such as that which need to be considered under the CAP?

The Minister may smile but we need to consider how we move things forward because many farmers are concerned.

I have not heard of bees as a livestock unit, but biodiversity and environmental sustainability will be a much more central element of the next Common Agricultural Policy.

The regulations as published require us, in getting to a strategic plan, to do a SWOT analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for Irish agriculture. This analysis also places an obligation to carry out a needs assessment for Irish agriculture into the future and to have an external evaluation of that process and of those two steps. That is why we are going to have a consultant look at what we have done, which itself is as a consequence of engagement with stakeholders. It is a complex process involving external oversight, with a consultant looking at what we are doing, but ultimately it is an issue that will be signed off by the Department, in consultation with stakeholders.

I have heard that criticism of the reference years, but looking at agriculture and entitlements today relative to 20 years ago, they bear little or no resemblance. Bearing in mind that, under the CAP, more than €100 million will have moved from farmers with high per hectare entitlements to farmers below the average level of entitlements, it is my view, which is contained within the document as published, that that journey of convergence will continue. It will be external, in that other member states will be looking for a greater share of the cake, and internal, in that, whatever the size of cake we get, there will be greater convergence. I have heard some people mention upward-only convergence, which baffles me to an extent as something of an oxymoron. There will be a continuation of the journey of convergence, however, which represents a greater equalisation and sharing out the spoils of the Common Agricultural Policy between all farmers.

What plans are there for Pillar 2? GLAS has been a successful scheme, to some extent, but many farmers want certainty into the future. They are concerned that in Pillar 1 there is an element of environmental measures and actions in that regard. What actions are going to be left when a person enters GLAS? We need to be at the stage of getting some certainty on this and on the level of payments that will be available. One of the big criticisms of GLAS is that the level of payments, compared with the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, and other schemes in the past, was significantly less for the actions that the farmers had to take.

I accept that the continuation of that environmental ambition that GLAS has will be part of the next CAP, whether it is a GLAS 2 or a different structure. The Commission says the new CAP will be performance-based with payments approved on the basis of quantifiable outcomes. In terms of the journey of continuing greater sustainability and climate-friendly policies in agriculture, it appears the Commission is looking for quantifiable outcomes upon which payments will be based. The Deputy would be equally critical of me if I were to be overly prescriptive now when we are doing a SWOT analysis and a needs assessment, and if I were to say this is how it was going to be. We will do the SWOT analysis and needs assessment, we will have that oversight by the external consultant, and we will engage with stakeholders. We need successors to GLAS-type schemes and beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, type schemes so that we can continue the journey. It will be an accelerated journey in the new CAP.