Rich, fertile soil, a mild climate and all that rain we love complaining about makes Ireland perfect for farming, and we’ve taken advantage of that fact for generations.
Agriculture has provided us with food and income for thousands of years and it’s a vital part of who we are. Before Ireland became a member of the European Union the country was almost totally economically dependent on farming but we now have a more diverse, open economy.
Farming still has a vital role to play in Ireland’s economic prospects but today it’s facing real threats from climate change, rising energy costs, food insecurity and rural decline, as well as uncertainty surrounding Brexit and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thankfully, being part of the European Union means Irish farmers don’t have to face these issues alone and can co-ordinate with the other EU nations through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to find solutions to global, as well as local, issues.
First introduced in Europe in 1962, the CAP is regularly adapted to ensure farmers make a reasonable living and to tackle evolving threats to agriculture, rural living and the environment.
The CAP is a common policy for all EU countries and it’s managed and funded at European level from the resources of the EU budget.
It helps support farmers and encourages them to work in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, to maintain our soils and biodiversity.
The CAP provides farmers with income support through direct payments, makes rules to deal with difficult market situations and promotes national and regional rural development programmes to address difficulties faced by rural communities.
It’s financed through two funds as part of the overall EU budget - the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF), which provides direct support and funds market measures, while the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) finances rural development.
The CAP is not only about looking forward; it’s also designed to protect what we already have. Preservation of Ireland’s famously beautiful countryside is assisted through the CAP’s Rural Development Programmes (RDPs).
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is a co-funder and the Managing Authority for Ireland’s Rural Development Programme.
A central priority of the Irish RDP is restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to agriculture, including boglands and forestry, and about three quarters of funding is allocated to this priority.
LEADER is the mechanism that delivers development to local rural communities, and it’s administered by Local Action Groups (LAGs), which are partnerships of both public and private bodies that select and approve projects in their respective areas.
The overall programme funding in Ireland is allocated to 28 sub-regional areas, based on administrative or county boundaries.
The European Commission’s proposals for how the CAP can work beyond 2020 will help the agriculture sector tackle the threat from climate change and adapt to changing market demands.
Funding for the initial CAP 2021-2027 proposals was substantially increased to help agriculture recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that followed it.
Under the European Commission’s major recovery plan, Next Generation EU, an additional €26.4 billion will bring the total funding proposed up to €391 billion for agriculture and rural development.
The increase means that the sector will receive 2% more funds each year than it received in 2020.
Member States control much of how the funding is allocated and have the option to transfer up to 15% of their CAP allocations between direct payments and rural development.
This will allow them to better adapt the policy to their own farming sector's priorities and deliver on the ambitions of the Green Deal roadmap for making the EU's economy sustainable.
The new CAP is based around nine key objectives that will be the cornerstone of a more results-oriented policy.
It will be simplified and modernised with better targeting for funding, performance based systems to ensure results and a big focus on support for young farmers.
The future CAP aims to prioritise small and medium-sized farms, encourage young farmers to join the profession and focus on better rural development.
Less than 7% of Irish farmers are under the age of 35 and the new CAP aims to boost that figure with proposals to help new generations of farmers join the profession.
Mentoring of young farmers by more experienced ones can improve knowledge transfer from one generation to the next while EU countries will be encouraged to do more at national level through measures - like more flexible rules on taxation and inheritance - to improve access to land for young farmers.
Beyond 2020, each Member State will draw up a CAP strategic plan to show how they propose to meet the nine key objectives.
The plans need to be approved by the Commission, which will then monitor progress and see if adjustments need to be made.
The European Commission has adopted two new strategies that will help the CAP deliver European Green Deal ambitions.
The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly.
It sets concrete targets such as halving the use of pesticides, reducing fertilizers by at least 20%, increasing agricultural land under organic farming to 25% and lowering antimicrobials used for farmed animals by 50%.
The new Biodiversity Strategy tackles the key drivers of biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable use of land, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and invasive alien species.
The strategy proposes to bring back pollinators to agricultural land, enhance organic farming and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices and establish binding targets to restore damaged ecosystems.
It also aims to transform at least 30% of Europe's lands into effectively managed protected areas and bring back at least 10% of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features.
Agriculture and Covid-19
The European Commission developed a major recovery plan for Europe to help repair the economic and social damage brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Specific supports for agriculture sectors were implemented to secure food supplies and protect the income of Europe’s farmers.
Support for temporary private storage of dairy and meat products was introduced and certain EU competition rules on milk, flowers and potatoes relaxed to stabilise markets.
CAP procedures were also simplified to guarantee that beneficiaries continued to get the support they needed.
The Commission coordinated closely with Member States to ensure a functioning single market for goods by creating green lanes while seasonal workers qualified as ‘critical workers’ and allowed to travel to secure food sector support.
Farmers and other rural development beneficiaries were able to benefit from loans or guarantees. Under the Commission’s temporary framework for state aid, farmers could benefit from a maximum aid of €100,000 per farm and food processing and marketing companies from a maximum of €800,000.
Under the Next Generation EU instrument, the Commission is proposing to reinforce the CAP funds to help with recovery from the coronavirus.
The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) is to be increased by €15 billion (€16.5 billion in current prices) to help rural areas recover and deliver the transition to a green economy.
The EAFRD will be further augmented by €5 billion (€5.6 billion in current prices) as part of a reinforced budget of the EU for 2021-2027 while the CAP's European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) will be boosted by €4 billion (€4.5 billion in current prices).
The Commission has also proposed to increase the Horizon Europe budget to €94.4 billion to boost support for health and climate-related research and innovation activities, some of which will benefit the agriculture sector.
Investment in the future of Irish agriculture is supported through the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme for research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bioeconomy.
The EU has also created the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI) to ensure that research responds to ground-level needs of farmers and foresters.
The European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have also launched a €1 billion loans package specifically targeting young farmers.
The loan programme is part of a joint ‘Young Farmers' initiative' and it will make it easier for young farmers to access loans with lower interest rates and longer repayment periods.
The Commission also agreed a fund of €50 million for Irish beef farmers in 2019 that could rise to €100 million with Irish government funding.
- Ireland covers an area of 69,798 km², of which agricultural land covers 71.6 % and forest land 11%.
- The majority of Irish agricultural grassland habitats are not achieving favourable conservation status.
- Ireland's total GHG emissions per capita are among the highest in the EU. Agriculture accounts for the biggest share at 32%.
- Employment in the Irish agri-food sector on average accounted for approximately 173,000 jobs, or 7.7% of total employment in 2018.
- The average family farm income in Ireland totalled €23,333 in 2018.
- Ireland exports the vast majority of its agricultural products. They accounted for 9.5% of the country’s total merchandising exports, and 11.2% of imports in 2019.
- The value of Ireland’s agri-food exports for 2019 totalled €14.5 billion.
- The average Irish farm size in the Teagasc National Farm Survey in 2018 was 43 hectares, with average income per hectare coming in at €541.
- Teagasc’s National Farm Survey results found that 32% of Irish farms surveyed were classified as viable in 2018. A further 34% were classified as sustainable, mainly due to off-farm income, while the remaining 34% were deemed economically vulnerable.
- European Commission Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development
- Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
- Common Agricultural Policy Timeline
- Teagasc - Ireland's Agriculture and Food Development Authority
- Factsheet: The CAP in your country - Ireland
- Commissioner Phil Hogan: Building the Future of EU Food & Farming