COMMENT: Monday of this week saw Department of Agriculture officials in Dublin confirming that the second tranche of single farm payment (SFP) monies had reached farmers’ bank accounts. This was followed today by similar news from Northern Ireland.

The reality remains that SFP funding constitutes a welcome boost for farmers at this time of the year.

The SFP represents the main platform of EU support for the farming industry, not just here, but throughout the entire EU. Many sceptics, who do not work within the agri sectors, sometime refer to the support received from Brussels as ‘money for nothing’. The reality is that the SFP is made available to ensure the countryside is maintained to the highest standards, where the issues of environmental protection and conservation are concerned. And rightly so!

Farmers are the custodians of the countryside. Our rural landscape is the envy of most other countries. Increasingly, people from all walks of life want to spend more time in the countryside and enjoy the breadth and scope of its beauty. So it is only right that taxpayers should make a contribution to its upkeep. And, of course, there is an extensive farm inspection regime put in place to ensure that farmers are meeting their obligations in this regard.

The review before last of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) saw the introduction of ‘de-coupling’, which broke the link between the money received by farmers from Brussels and farm outputs.

However, the reality is that the SFP still acts as a form of cheap food policy across Europe. All of the statistics confirm that retail food prices are cheaper now than was the case 30, and certainly, 40 years ago. So, in reality, taxpayers are getting excellent value for their money – a pristine countryside and high-quality food that represents excellent value for money.

Of course, the SFP represents a source of taxable income for farmers. Moreover, it can be used to pay bills incurred courtesy of farmers’ day-to-day production related activities.

As producers know only too well the cost for all farm inputs has risen dramatically over the past year – and the prospect of more pain coming our way in this regard is a very real one. It is, therefore, an absolute imperative for our farming leaders to secure the best possible CAP Reform deal over the coming months.

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