Speaking yesterday at a meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers in Lithuania, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, expressed his strong support for the maintenance of family farms, which he described as “the heartbeat of EU farming structures”.

However, Minister Coveney cautioned that, while maintaining family farms was consistent with the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), it did not mean the maintenance of the status quo. Acknowledging that there would have to be changes in farm structures and a greater focus on competitiveness, sustainability and innovation, the Minister said that the challenge would be to “bring family farms along with the changes needed”.

Minister Coveney also emphasised the need for more generational change in farming throughout Europe and pointed to some of the measures included in the reformed CAP, which would contribute positively in this regard.  Positively favouring younger farmers was one of his priorities during the CAP Reform negotiations.

The Minister also urged a greater focus on succession planning.  Noting the importance of the issue of access to land, the Minister stressed the need for more long-term leasing, in order to give farmers greater certainty about land access and to allow them to plan on a longer-term and more sustainable basis.  Coveney also commented on the importance of price and the disruptive effect of price volatility, particularly in the dairy market, and called for a greater focus on these issues and the wider use of medium-term contracts for milk supply.

The Minister also urged a review of State Aid rules to assist in the restructuring of farms, including the increased use of farm partnerships.

Referring to the importance of innovation, Minister Coveney referred to the use of farm development discussion groups in Ireland as an example of how best practice can be shared among farmers and encouraged their use in other countries as a way in which innovation can be further encouraged.

Concluding his remarks, Minister Coveney noted the very successful co-operative model that applies in Ireland, particularly in the dairy sector, but said that, in the future, there would be a need for further economies of scale both in Ireland and through the EU, through greater co-operation and mergers of existing co-operatives.