Farmers and the weather
The improved weather forecast for the next few days at least offers some respite to farmers — and to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.
Farmers feel he hasn’t sufficiently acknowledged their difficulties caused by this summer’s disastrous weather.
They will get a €600 million advance of the single farm payment from October 16 onwards — but this is nothing special, a 50% advance having been paid out in each of the last six years (In 2009, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith secured a 70% advance).
EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said he was unable to grant a 70% advance this year due to budget constraints, even though Mr Coveney cited the very wet weather in June and July, which he said led to severe difficulties for farmers, particularly in silage-making, and which has also required the housing of animals, with the attendant additional costs of buying in feed, together with ongoing cashflow difficulties affecting farming and the wider community.
"I have been particularly concerned at the difficulties caused for farmers by the adverse weather of the past seven weeks," said the Minister at the time — and there have been four more wet weeks in the meantime.
Mr Coveney acknowledged at Tullamore Show that the summer of 2012 has put farmers under huge pressure, and said farm incomes would inevitably be affected by the atrocious weather, damaging yields and fodder supplies, with farmers in the Shannon region particularly badly hit by flooding.
There were limits to what the Government could do to support affected farmers, but they were trying to get payments out early, he said.
The picture became clearer in the latest memorandum of understanding between the Government and the EU, ECB and IMF, who are bankrolling Ireland Inc. It referred to "at least €3.5bn" of "adjustments" in the budget next December, €1.25bn of which will come from additional taxes and €2.25bn from cuts.
Against that background, there is unlikely to be cash help from Dublin for farmers hit by the bad weather.
The IFA seems to agree, reiterating that the core issue on farms today is the impact of the prolonged wet weather on costs and incomes in 2012 — but seeking no more from the Government than a guarantee that farm schemes will not be cut in the next budget, that disadvantaged area payments are made on time, and the 50% advance of the single farm payment is made in October to all farmers, inspected for compliance or not.
The IFA recognises a country on the rocks financially can do little to help those in danger of falling overboard.
However, it hasn’t helped that Mr Coveney failed to acknowledge the weather setbacks of 2012 this week, when he trumpeted the agri-food sector progress of 2011, and said he expects the sector to play an integral part in the recovery of our economy, and the continued viability of our rural and coastal areas, in the plan to increase production by a third over the next decade.
In particular, the pig and poultry farmers who are surviving from month to month must have taken that with a pinch of salt.
It now seems the only hope of relief for farmers wondering if they can financially survive the coming winter is EU compensation for farming losses due to bad weather.
ICMSA President John Comer has said a precedent exists for the EU to provide assistance where extremes of weather have seriously damaged farmers’ income, and he called on Mr Coveney to ask Brussels for help.
However, for that to happen, the Government must formally recognise the Irish summer of 2012 as a natural disaster which destroyed more than 30% of average annual production.