Westmeath’s councillors have pledged to do all they can to support the local farming community, after receiving a presentation from the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA ) on some of the challenges facing the county’s farmers.
The IFA’s Joe Maxwell spoke to councillors at the recent Westmeath County Council meeting, and highlighted the importance of farming to the local economy, saying it creates economic activity in every town and parish, with 26 IFA branches in Westmeath.
However farmers are anxious that any reduction on Direct Payments to farmers would have severe consequences on agricultural production and farm incomes.
Mr Maxwell highlighted a study carried out by UCD which found that the maintenance of existing supports are vital to ensure the continuing contribution of agriculture to the Irish economy.
If Direct Payments were reduced by 20 per cent, farm output would decrease by €415m nationally, and the total economy by €780m, he said.
“It is important that schemes for farmers are kept in place. We’ve been cut by 18 per cent since the Government realised they have to make cutbacks. Savings could be made in the Department of Agriculture without cutting schemes,” he added.
Councillors united in offering their support to the local farming community.
“Farming is important to this county, and we will do all we can to support it. The figures for jobs created by farming include those outside the farm gate - food processing, shops, etc,” said Cllr Colm Arthur.
Mr Maxwell said the IFA were open to the establishment of food processing plants in Westmeath; “We lobbied for a factory in Westmeath and it didn’t come; if one comes along we will welcome it with open arms,” he said.
Cllr Dan McCarthy said the IFA were “talking to the converted”. “We are very anxious to support farming and realise the importance of the industry,” he said.
Responding to a suggestion from Cllr Frankie Keena that energy crops be looked at, Mr Maxwell said it would be impossible unless a contract could be secured from EirGrid.
“There is too much legislation for a person or small company to start something up; it takes a lot of money and grants, and no individual would be able to do it. We have never got the funding to feed into the national grid.”
Cllr Paddy Hill said farmers were “highly over-regulated”. “If only common sense could be used by the Department...farmers are afraid to burn a bush. It is very difficult for young people to get into farming with the cost involved,. We need new schemes to allow young farmers to become involved in farming or to take over their parents’ farms,” he added.
Mr Maxwell also highlighted the difficulty farmers have getting credit.