In his proposal for the new CAP, Commissioner Phil Hogan has spoken of the need for flexibility so that Member States can design special schemes to cater to the needs of all young farmers and this, I believe, will allow Ireland to deal with the group of 2,000 plus farmers now dubbed ‘Forgotten Farmers’.
In her response to the publication of the European Commission’s communication on the new CAP proposals, Independent MEP Marian Harkin said, “Under the current CAP, special measures were put in place but only for young farmers. While this was an extremely positive aspect of the current CAP and was included at the insistence of the European Parliament, it did not address the group ‘Forgotten Farmers’ ”.
Marian Harkin continued, “Forgotten farmers are those who have little or no EU support, despite the fact that they are active farmers and have invested heavily in their enterprises. Because CAP proposals change every 7 years, many of these farmers fell through the gaps where one scheme was not directly linked to its predecessor or its successor”.
“The current definition of a young farmer restricts payments to those who are in their first 5 years of farming. However, many of the forgotten farmers are farming more than 5 years but for one reason or another were unable to access Installation Schemes etc. in previous rounds of CAP. They now find themselves out in the cold, discriminated against and unable to compete on a level playing field with their neighbours and other farmers receiving EU Single Farm Payments”, she added.
In his proposal, Commissioner Hogan states, ‘The CAP should give flexibility to Member States to develop tailor made schemes that reflect the specific needs of their young farmers’. This I believe would allow Member States to tweak their payments regime and allow the ‘Forgotten Farmers’ access to the Single Farm Payment on a par with other young farmers. Perhaps the strongest signal from Commissioner Hogan was the proposal that ‘the CAP should provide an EU-wide system of support to the first installation’, and that ‘this could be achieved with a simplified top-up payment for new entrants (tailored by Member States according to the specific needs) and/or reinforcement or extension of current lump sum payments’. This proposal would definitely give Ireland the flexibility to include these ‘Forgotten Farmers’ in the CAP regime.
However, we must not wait for the next CAP to address the glaring inequalities faced by these young forgotten farmers in Ireland. I have been working closely with Kenneth O’Brien from the ‘Forgotten Farmers’ over a number of years and a pledge to assist this group of farmers is already in the Programme for Government, but so far, the Government has failed to deliver on this pledge.
“Commissioner Hogan has given a signal of his support for all young farmers in his new CAP proposal and indeed the EU Commission has not raised any barriers to equal treatment of our ‘Forgotten Farmers’. Therefore, this is the ideal time for the Department of Agriculture and the Irish Government to show their support for generational renewal in Irish farming and ensure equality of treatment for Ireland’s 2,000 plus ‘Forgotten Farmers’ ”, Marian Harkin concluded.