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Foreword for the Farmers’ Handbook by Minister Michael Creed
I am very pleased to have been asked to introduce the 27th edition of the Farmers’ Handbook & Tax Guide. This publication is an invaluable source of information for all those involved in farming. The agri-food sector continues to be Ireland’s most important indigenous industry and plays a vital role in our economy. At a macro level, the industry has seen growth in export value of some 73% over the last ten years, to reach a record €13.7 billion in 2018. This is 10% of Irish merchandise exports and for a small island nation on the western edge of Europe, this is no mean feat.
The sector also makes a significant contribution to employment. The 173,000 people working in agri-food represent about 7.7% of total employment. Outside Dublin and the mid-east region, the rate rises to between 10% and 14% of employment. This highlights its importance to regional, rural and coastal areas and the degree to which it is embedded in the rural economy, and just as importantly, in rural communities.
Some 137,000 farms producing over €8 billion in output underpins the agri-food sector, and farmers are at the heart of our economy and our society. The biggest challenge facing the agriculture sector continues to be Brexit. The UK remains a critically important trading partner for Irish businesses.
In 2018 some 40% (amounting to €5.5 billion) of total agri-food exports went to the UK and almost 46% (or €4.4 billion) of total agri-food imports across a wide range of product categories, came to our shores from the UK. The risk of a no deal Brexit on 31 October 2019 was averted when the EU 27 leaders unanimously agreed an extension to 31 January 2020 to allow for the final ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Until the Withdrawal Agreement is fully ratified, at the time of writing, the risk of a no deal Brexit remains. The new CAP proposals, as drafted, involve significant changes for Member States and farmers. The proposals describe a new way of working, shifting from the current compliance based format, to a results-based approach. The current two Pillar structure, as we know it, will remain. Pillar I will continue to provide direct support for farmers and market support measures and is 100% financed by the EU.
Pillar II will continue to support farmers engaging in agri-environmental measures and is co-financed by the Member State and the EU. Consideration of the proposals is ongoing, both at national and EU level, as the negotiations progress. As part of this process, the Department is fully engaged in a broad consultative process with all stakeholders. The outcome of all this activity will feed into our ongoing analysis and policy response to the Commission proposals. Agreeing the EU budget will be a challenging task for Member States.
Newer priorities, such as migration and security, compete for adequate funding against the more traditional EU policies such as the CAP. The reduction in contributions, following the planned departure of the UK from the EU, will further compound the budgetary issues. I continue to work towards building consensus amongst my agriculture colleagues in Europe to maintain an appropriate level for the CAP budget post 2020. May I wish the Farmers’ Handbook and Tax Guide 2020 and its readers every success and hope that this year’s edition will prove as popular a publication as ever.
Michael Creed T.D.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine