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25 October 2011: Address by Simon Coveney T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the Women and Agriculture 2011 Conference in Kilkenny on 25 October 2011

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. It is impressive to see such a large gathering here which indicates how seriously you take your business. There is no doubt that the role of women in agriculture cannot be underestimated. Your involvement and influence can be seen at so many different levels. I read an interesting quote from a discussion in the Council of Europe back in 1997, when commenting on the invisibility of women's farm work.  It stated that "women in rural societies and especially in farming have always been an "invisible work force".  Too little has been done to fully recognise women's role on farms and in rural communities - legally, economically, technologically and in statistics." It continues that "a full recognition of women’s role in rural development would greatly contribute to rural prosperity." Fourteen years on is that still relevant?

I know that the lack of access to land ownership has been recognised as the single most significant barrier to women's entry into farming. The National Anti-Poverty Strategy report in 2001 recognised that "access to land and property is a huge issue for women in rural areas.  You have access to work but not to payment for work".  The same report recognised that the 75% of volunteer base in rural areas in Ireland are women. Why does that not surprise me?  Then again you are no doubt already aware of all of this.

There is very interesting evidence to suggest that farms jointly managed by women are more economically viable than those managed by sole operators. An analysis of data from 1.9 million farm households in the USA by Perry and Ahearn in 1994 showed that farms where women had joint managerial responsibilities had higher average income. There was 23% higher farm related income than on farms operated by men only. This analysis provides evidence as to the economic benefit of greater inclusion of women in farm decision-making.

A 2005 study in five European countries (Finland, France, Netherlands, Greece and Sweden), found that women's ownership or co-ownership of land determines their level of participation in farm decision making. Women who owned land participated significantly more in decision making than women not owning land. This research suggests that jointly managed farms are more likely to financially successful and to pursue economic diversification initiatives than those managed by sole operators.

Then again I know that I am speaking to the converted here but it is important to put it out there that it should not be assumed that this is only a man’s business.  I deeply value the contribution and support you give to agriculture. Indeed agriculture in Ireland today is in a good place and I am very ambitious about it’s future.

Another development in agriculture has been the number of students entering third level education course on agriculture.  The number of students entering the Teagasc programmes has more than doubled in the last five years.  Six years ago they were looking at closing colleges because of falling numbers, but that has completely reversed.  What is also interesting is that the profile of agricultural students is changing.  In recent years there has been a very welcome increase in the number of female applicants.  It is vital that students are attracted on to agricultural and rural development programmes for the modernisation of Irish agri-culture and the sustainability of Ireland's rural communities.

Food Harvest 2020

You will be aware of the work done under Food Harvest 2020. This report came about as a result of a collaborative exercise lead by industry. While it’s targets are ambitious, I have no doubt that they will work. I am certainly working hard to ensure that everything that can be done to ensure its success happens.

Food Harvest 2020, the strategy for the agri-food and fisheries industries, is providing a clear, bold and practical vision for the optimum development of the sector. Over the past year the High Level Implementation Committee, has worked with key stakeholders in setting the framework for achieving the ambitious development targets which include increasing the value of primary output by 33%, improving value-added by 40% and increasing exports by 42% (to €12bn), all by 2020.

The 1st progress report on Food Harvest 2020, Milestones for Success, was launched in July. This gives a good insight into the level of progress achieved over the past year.  It also highlights the effective collaboration between the Department, the State Agencies (EI, EPA, Bord Bia, Teagasc, BIM) and the food industry.

Key overarching initiatives progressed over the past year mentioned in Milestones for Success include:

  • Significant industry and State collaboration on research initiatives as illustrated by the DAFM Research Call on FH2020 priorities, the Food for Health Ireland focus on functional ingredients, the Irish Dairy Board/Teagasc collaboration on new cheese development, and meat industry input into bull beef and dairy beef production systems,
  • Securing accreditation from the UK Carbon Trust for an Irish beef production carbon footprint model and incorporating this into the Bord Bia Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme (BLQAS). This will be extended to other products over the coming year making it an important stepping stone in the Brand Ireland objective,
  • A range of capacity building initiatives such as Leadership for Growth programme, Food Entrepreneurs Network, Dairy Discussion Groups and the LEAN Competitiveness programme. Milestones for Success includes a schedule over 40 major actions to be taken by stakeholders by July 2012. 
  • Myself and the HLIC are driving progress on these and other initiatives by setting quarterly targets and monitoring their achievement at each HLIC.
  • Milestones for Success also sets out interim milestones for 2013 and 2015 and steps which need to be taken to achieve the 2020 targets
The CAP negotiations and what may happen to the Single Farm Payment

We were pleased that the Commission published its proposals for the CAP post 2013 on 12 October, thus ending speculation on what was in the package. It is important to point out that these are proposals only and may change in the course of the lengthy negotiating process ahead. I would expect negotiations to continue at political level over the next year or more and it is envisaged that the package will not be formally agreed until early 2013 and may fall to the Irish Presidency.

Since taking up office I have engaged actively with the Commission and the European Parliament to put Ireland's case and have worked to build up alliances with like-minded Member States. I am fully committed to continuing this work to ensure a successful outcome for Ireland in these negotiations.

You probably have already seen from articles in the newspapers that the Single Payment Scheme will be replaced by a new payment model, made up of a number of different elements and moving eventually to uniform national or regional rates of payment.  The existing regime will cease at 31 December 2013 and all existing Single Payment scheme entitlements will be abolished on that date.  The proposals envisage that the individual historic reference will be replaced by a model based on regional or national averages.  There is a target date of 2019 for achieving a uniform value of all basic payment entitlements in a Member State or region of a Member State.

I have to acknowledge that there is very little support among other Member States for the retention of the historic model as used by Ireland. In those circumstances, my priority will be to seek as much flexibility as possible for Member States to determine the payment models best suited to their conditions and to the development of their farming systems. I will also be looking for appropriate transitional arrangements and I am not happy with the front loaded transition process in the Commission proposals. I discussed this issue recently with my French colleague, Bruno Le Maire and we agreed on the need for such flexibility for Member States in relation to both payment models and transition arrangements.

At a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg we had a presentation by the Commission of the CAP proposals followed by an initial exchange of views. I believe we can get good support at Council, and I hope in the European Parliament, for a reasonable level of flexibility for Member States, including a longer and slower transition than envisaged by the Commission.  This will be a major focus of the negotiations over the next year or two.

In 2010, a Consultative Committee on the CAP was set up by my Department comprising all the major farming and agriculture related representative organisations involved in Social Partnership as well as a number of academics. The Committee have met on several occasions, most recently earlier this month. My Department will now intensify consultations on appropriate payment models for Ireland. We need to look at all possibilities in an open minded way in order to determine what is best to support our ambitions for the sector as set out in our recent report Food Harvest 2020: Milestones for Success which I spoke about earlier.

There has been much speculation in the media recently about the use of 2014 as a reference year for the establishment of entitlements. Under the proposal, new payment entitlements will be allocated in 2014 to active farmers who used at least one payment entitlement in 2011. Entitlements will be established for the farmer who declares the land in 2014 and will be based on the eligible area declared by the farmer for that year.

I am of course aware that there is concern that the proposals could lead to land market distortions and would not be in the best interests of productive farmers. I have conveyed these views to the Commission and will continue to press this point. Indeed the proposals already contain some changes from what was in earlier drafts as a result of our pressure. For the present, I would say the following.  The provisions surrounding establishment of entitlements are very complex and will require a great deal of clarification. Moreover, it is highly likely that they will be altered significantly during the course of the negotiations. Against that background, I would strongly urge farmers not to prejudge the situation and not to rush into decisions now that they may later have cause to regret.

There is also the proposal for a 30% mandatory green component in direct payments for additional agri-environmental measures beyond current cross-compliance. This measure will be added to the flat rate payment payable per hectare to farmers who are following agricultural practices beneficial for the climate and to the environment. To qualify for the basic payment and to attract the green component farmers must comply with these compulsory green measures. Organic farmers will qualify automatically for the green payment. The Government supports the idea of encouraging sustainable forms of agriculture which is at the heart of the food harvest 2020 strategy. However, I have considerable difficulty with the proposals as they stand. The existence of separate greening measures will complicate our existing Single Payment Scheme. It will also hasten the movement towards uniform national or regional payment rates. Moreover some of the "green" criteria currently proposed are problematic. That having been said, "greening", if properly done, without excessive red tape, could support our plans for smart, green growth in Irish agriculture.

Among the other measures proposed is a measure for young farmers for a top up payment over a 5 year period. This is a proposal that Ireland was particularly active in pressing with the Commission.  We are all aware that there is a need to improve the age structure of our agricultural work force, and to support well-educated young farmers who will be the platform for further innovation and growth in our agriculture industry.

During the negotiations my priority will be to retain Irish agriculture funding and to ensure that we have a strong and effective CAP which will support our ambitions for the sector as set out most recently in Food Harvest 2020: Milestones for Success. The proposed redistribution of funds between Member States largely protects our pillar 1 funding - and closely reflects proposals made by Ireland in the earlier discussions - but a threat still hangs over our funding for rural development. I am determined to fight to retain our CAP funds.

Agri-Food policy, development and trade

The agri-food sector has performed strongly in recent months with exports reaching over €7.9 billion in 2010. This strong growth has continued in 2011 with exports for the first six months estimated to have increased by more than €500 million (14%), over the same period last year and prospects for the remainder of 2011 remain broadly positive.

The medium to longer term prospects for the sector are also bright, with the FAO/OECD indicating a generally positive global agricultural outlook up to 2020, helped by projected increases in global food demand. In the medium term, global beef supplies are expected to tighten further, while the ending of milk quotas in 2015 offers a very significant opportunity for major expansion in that sector. This has resulted in a tangible sense of optimism at both farm and industry level with a strong buy-in to the Food Harvest 2020 strategy

Milk Quotas

As regards the 2008 CAP Reform Health Check agreement, it is now very clear that milk quotas will be abolished in 2015. Centralised supply management will be a thing of the past. Markets will essentially dictate what volume of milk is required to satisfy demand.

 

How are we preparing for this future without quotas? Primarily through the so-called "soft landing", which is introducing five quota increases of 1% annually over the period from the 2009/2010 quota year to the 2013/2014 quota year. Ireland also secured an adjustment in butterfat calculations which facilitates a further increase in production equivalent to approximately 2% of national quota. These measures will give us an additional milk production capacity of 7.3% in 2014 compare to 2008.

Although the first of the two market reports required under the Health Check agreement concluded that the "soft landing" was on track, we know that this is not the case in Ireland. Contrary to the general situation across the EU, Ireland and a small number of other Member States are in continuing danger of going over quota, and the value of milk quota is remaining stubbornly high. We have therefore supported calls from Member States such as the Netherlands and Denmark for a soft landing for all Member States.

Options include the front-loading of the remaining quota increases, a reduction in the super levy, reduction/elimination of the butterfat adjustment, or an EU flexi-milk arrangement which would operate provided EU production overall was under quota. However, the Commission has resisted attempts to revisit the issue, and there is, in any event, no guarantee that a majority of Member States will support calls for a more flexible milk quota regime. Therefore all milk producers need to continue to observe quota limits, and not run the risk of incurring a potentially very damaging super levy.

Conclusion

Again, I am delighted to have joined with you today. I believe that conference's such as yours are excellent forums in which discussions on agriculture and other related topics can be developed.  They are also important opportunities for each of you to develop further contacts with others in the industry so that we can all work together to bring agriculture and the agri-food sector to the heights I am aiming for.