5 May 1995

Leader pledges fair deals for young farmers

Irelands young farmers have a new champion in Joe Healy. He pledges to fight further cuts in milk quota and campaign for adequate quota reserves for new entrants. The countrys milk quota transfer schemes are also reviewed in this special report by Liz Mason

JOE HEALY, new president of the Irish Young Farmers Association, Macra na Feirme, plans to continue the campaign for a fair deal for the countrys young farmers.

Mr Healy, who took over the familys 57ha (140-acre) farm in Athenry, Co. Galway, in 1989, has a solid base of 10,000 Macra members to lead.

The association provides a social and educational outlet for young people in rural areas. But Macras main value, says Mr Healy, is its strength as a lobby group for new farming entrants.

Past successes show Macra has influenced government. It has achieved:

&#8226 A reduction in the amount of stamp duty paid by young farmers on taking over a farm.

&#8226 A change in the labour unit requirement rules for farm installation grant.

&#8226 Reintroduction of 100% stock relief for the first four years of installation as a full-time farmer.

But Mr Healy says there is still much to do. Macra will continue to lobby for the total abolition of stamp duty, he says. It will continue to fight against any further cuts in milk quota and campaign to ensure there are enough quota reserves in place for new entrants.

Macra has never agreed with attaching a monetary value to quotas, he says, and it will be pushing for a "decapitalisation of quotas".

Mr Healy accepts that this is not supported by the countrys biggest farming unions. But he says the main problem with milk quotas is that they were "capitalised at all in the beginning".

Milk quotas are a valuable asset and many people have borrowed money on the strength of their financial value. They also offer a pension for retiring farmers. But Mr Healy says quotas are "false capital" created by EU rules.

Figures show that about 700 people leave agriculture in Eire each year. This serious problem is linked to the provision of incentives for young farmers.

He insists Macra must lobby to ensure there are milk quota reserves in place to bring new entrants into the industry at a viable level. It is better to bring fewer people into the industry at a viable level than to bring more in at a level that amounts only to self-sufficiency. That is bringing them into hardship, says Mr Healy.

Allocations of 10,000gal (45,460 litres) "are not worth a damn to new entrants", he says. They need to be producing 20,000 gal (91,200 litres)- 25,000 gal (111,400 litres) before they can move anywhere.

The only way to ensure proper allocation of available quota is through a national pool where priority categories, can be looked after, he adds.

Cereals disagreement

On cereals, Macra differs from the countrys biggest farming union, the Irish Farmers Association, over future policy. "They are looking for an individual base area. We would in Macra be against that," says Mr Healy.

The introduction of individual base areas would, he believes, cause the same difficulties for young farmers and new entrants as milk quotas. A national base area allows for new entrants but the introduction of individual areas would mean: "If you are in you are in, if you are out its your hard luck".

Irish growers planted just 297,000ha (733,590 acres) of the 345,000ha (852,150-acre) cereal base area because many did not have land eligible for CAP payments under EU rules. Only land that was under cereals between 1987-91 is eligible for area aid and that rule does not allow for arable rotations. It is the eligible land rules that is responsible for the 48,000ha (118,560-acre) shortfall in the cropped area, argues Mr Healy.

"I dont think the problem lies with individual quotas or a national base area, I think the problem lies with eligible land," he says.

Macra also wants more resources given to administration of the farm installation grant. Applications are being held up because the Department of Agriculture does not have sufficient manpower to deal with the paperwork.

Mr Healy says the scheme needs "more resources and less bureaucracy".

The early retirement scheme is "an excellent scheme" which has "excellent potential". But again Macra says there are drawbacks, including the so-called enlargement clause. This requires the successor to increase the acquired farm by at least 10% if he/she does not already own land.

Farmers also either have to own land or rent it on a long-term lease. That excludes many who have short-term agreements.

Overall Mr Healy says there is confidence in the future among young farmers who have fairly sizeable holdings. They know they can make a living from farming. But for those on the countrys many smaller units, the future is less secure.

Early retirement scheme

This scheme was approved by the EU in January 1994. It offered an annual pension payment of IR£3905/farm plus an annual allowance of IR£244.50/ha (£99/acre) up to a IR£9764 limit to more than 2000 people last year. This will be paid for up to 10 years but not beyond the retiring farmers 70th birthday.

Farmers spouses or relatives can apply for their pension where farms are jointly managed.

Retiring farmers must:

&#8226 Be between 55-66 years old

&#8226 Stop commercial farming

&#8226 Transfer at least 5ha (12.35 acres) to the successor.

The successor must:

&#8226 Have at least five years farming experience if born before Jan 1, 1968.

&#8226 At least three years experience and 150 hours of training if born after Jan 1, 1968.

&#8226 Stay in farming for at least five years.

Farm workers who lose their jobs as a result of the scheme are also entitled to a pension of IR£2441 a year.

Farm installation facts

The farm installation grant offers young farmers a one-off payment

of IR£5600. The scheme was approved by the EU in December 1994. Member

states receive 75% funding from Europe. To qualify farmers must be:

&#8226 Under 35.

&#8226 Have appropriate skill and

competence. For those born after Jan 1 1968 this is a minimum of a

college certificate in farming or an equivalent qualification. Farmers born

before this date must have a minimum of five years in farming plus some

appropriate training.

&#8226 Obtain 50% of their income

from the farm and spend 50% of their time working on the farm. Agri-

tourism and forestry is now treated as on-farm income.

In addition the farm must:

&#8226 Have a labour requirement of one man work unit.