The €5m National Reserve Fund announced by Minister Creed on Tuesday is a welcome boost to young farmers who, as the next generation of food producers, deserve the leg-up this will provide. But it will do nothing for forgotten farmers, who are still not being recognised.
This is the second National Reserve Fund to exclude over 3,900 young farmers, who also found themselves out of the loop in 2016 either because they began farming before 2008 or because they have been unable to complete their Green Cert qualifications on time.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice thinks the Forgotten Farmers are being ignored on purpose: "Despite many great speeches on the matter from various quarters, nothing has been done. Are we witnessing the same carry on here as we have seen with grain farmers, where there is a nod and a wink and nothing happening?"
The issues that have dogged these farmers are all down to inflexible rules surrounding age (candidates for Young Farmers Assistance must be under 40) qualifications (many were taken by surprise by the first YF scheme and had to join waiting lists for Green Cert courses) and duration they have been farming (those who started before 2008 were excluded).
Speaking at the AGM of ICSA, Minister Creed made a conciliatory speech: “The forgotten farmers is a difficult one. I have been in contact with the Commissioner on this and it's like all things, if it was easy to resolve, it would have been done long ago. Some of them are age disqualified, some are education disqualified, there is a myriad of different reasons so they don't fit into a cohesive unit.”
Minister Creed also said that including Forgotten Farmers would cost an additional €12m. This seems the most likely reason why they are being ignored. He has tried blaming Brussels, but now he says it is a question of money. His sole purpose is to deflect the issue away from his own department. But the DAFM has the administrative manpower needed, and it has agency over the distribution of EU funds.
So what is so difficult about recognising the basic overall qualification of a person who otherwise fulfils the criteria, except for some bureaucratic oversight? If the government is serious about its concerns for this group then there is a simple solution.
A special forgotten farmer round of applications should be created, a recognition scheme, under which dispensation is given to those who don't currently qualify for young farmer top-ups, but who satisfy most of the criteria. Farmers could have their cases heard on an individual basis once and for all. They could then be included in subsequent rounds of funding.
At present almost 50% of total farm payments benefit just 12% of farmers. If the National Reserve cannot cough up any more, then perhaps Minister Creed should skim a little of this bonanza away from the millionaires and give it to the young farmers instead. It would do him credit and it would give our young farmers some reassurance that their long hours and dedication to Ireland's agricultural future are valued.