Cork Senator Jerry Buttimer met with members of Macra Na Feirme in Carrigaline last week to discuss with them about the lack of Government support that continues to hinder the future development of the agri-business sector. The Macra members made an excellent presentation and outlined some key points on the various issues that they encounter.
I discussed with Macra how young farmers around the country are struggling at present. I was at the recent pre budget meeting with the IFA a couple of weeks ago and to be honest I was astounded at the figure they presented to me. 7% of farmers are now under the age of 35. This is a real concern considering the fact that we need young farmers to implement targets such as those under the Food Harvest report 2020. We talk so much about the “smart economy” but this is a true example of how, with the necessary incentives and support young farmers can be central to growth in the economy. When you consider the fact that 20% of jobs outside Dublin are in the agricultural, agri-food or related industries then we recognise the importance of putting young farmers in charge of their future.
The government’s decision to abolish key supports to farmers are one of the numerous failures by them. By suspending Installation Aid they are threatening the future of young farmers in this country and are acting as a barrier to new entrants into the farming community. The Government’s refusal to fill vacancies in Agricultural colleges that are full of well-educated students who have a strong desire to impart their knowledge into the farming community is scandalous. I have debated many times in the Seanad about the importance of the agricultural industry to Ireland. I think any industry that is worth €1.8bn and provides 250,000 jobs should always be at the forefront of our debates. We see every week the problems that small and medium size businesses have with regards to accessing credit for their businesses. We include farmers in this. The farm family business structure that is so crucial within Irish society and that provides direct and indirect benefits to the local community is suffering because they cannot access the credit needed to keep their businesses viable. These families have been directly hit because many of their sons and daughters worked in what was once a thriving construction industry and now as their children seek employment or are forced into emigration, the government continues to tell them there is an embargo on employment in the agricultural education centres that are so important to them.
Macra’s pre budget submission has numerous important proposals to keep our agri sector vibrant. The proposal to retain CAT (Capital Acqusition Tax) at 90% would no doubt encourage young people to become involved in farming and see it as a viable future for themselves and their families. This rate is not akin to the many tax reliefs that developers got around the country. This form of relief would encourage economic activity and would be reinvested within the industry. I naturally support the need for a greater access to credit.
Farmers have suffered enough. We talk about generations of Irish people paying for the mistake of a few. I think it’s about time the Government stood up and listened to those sectors that continue to make positive contributions to our society and our economy and to support them in every way possible. Macra is truly an integral organisation within Irish society and this meeting with them last week reaffirmed this to me even more. Fine Gael will continue to publish proposals and work with farmers and farm organisations to ensure we keep this vital industry alive.