independent

Sunday 18 August 2019

After some disastrous times, the future of farming looks brighter

with IVAN Yates

THE NATIONAL Ploughing Championships celebrated their 80th anniversary in Athy with a record attendance. 2009 was a disastrous low point for Irish agriculture.

Milk prices at 21c per litre were below the cost of production, now it's 34c. Average farm income was €12,000, while fulltime professionals' earnings were €24,000 - the comparative salaries are now €18,000 and €34,000. Commodity prices have increased by up to 60%, while still not attaining heights reached in 1995.

Careers in farming are popular again, with an 80% increase in enrolments at agriculture colleges, many hundreds of applicants being turned away. Bord Bia's latest annual report reveals exports are worth almost €9 billion, equivalent to 8% of GDP - with no repatriation of profits abroad as with multinational manufacturers. Foreseeable market prospects for beef, live exports, lamb and white meat are positive. The recent harvest procured excellent yields of up to 3.5 tonnes per acre.

Since 1984, main emphasis of the CAP has been to balance supply and demand by curbing overproduction. The milk quota regime, with penal superlevy charges, effectively disallowed excess production. Farmers depended on subsidies for survival. The Single Farm Payment consolidated a multitude of previous entitlements. This regime is subject to a new round of reform by 2014. Proposals will be published by the Commission on October 12. Dismantling milk quota limits represents a major opportunity for extra production for young dairy farmers.

Hot topic last week was the proposed reference year for a new Single Area Payment. Suggestion that 2014 would provide the basis for entitlement is bitterly opposed. It will create enormous pressures on the annual rental land market of 800,000 hectares by 43,000 farmers. Existing leases may not be renewed. Good news is that CAP overall tranche funding is to be maintained at almost €390 billion.

Many Eurocrats wish to convert the CAP into a Common Environmental Policy - basing payments on ecological principles. With our grass-based non-industrialised profile, we can increase market share at low-cost. Farmers were depicted in the past as moaners. Our vital national interest must be secured through consumer-based, high-quality, added value food products increasing market share.

FANCY A FLUTTER?

The government's reforms for the gambling sector are long overdue. Traditional betting is governed by the 1931 Betting Act, while gaming (amusement arcades, card games, slot machines, roulette) are regulated under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. Online technology has completely overtaken outdated legislation. Decades of political inaction have deprived our economy of a significant share of global gambling revenues and consequent employment.

Most focus and reaction to Justice Minister Alan Shatter's plans related to rejection of large venue casino resorts. The Two Mile Borris, Co. Tipperary project is dead in the water. This was always a fantasy proposition. €460 million was to be invested in a 500 bed hotel (largest in Ireland), horse & greyhound racetracks, equestrian centre and golf course. There are already too many unviable similar facilities throughout the country. Thousands of phantom jobs were promised on the assumption that 25,000 paying customers weekly would access the venue. Basic issues of rural isolation and lack of access were not scrutinised.

This hiatus distracted from serious sectoral issues that require considered public debate. Up to 50 'private members clubs' opened over the past decade. These provide card games (poker and blackjack) and roulette facilities. Registration as a member is instant and membership is based on a grey area of the law.

Garda superintendents adopted varying approaches to closure. These should be properly licensed centrally, with a gaming tax regime, requiring full compliance. Hours of operation, limitations on alcohol sale and uniform policing need to be comprehensively enforced -providing locals and tourists with compatible facilities available abroad.

Traditional UK betting shops survived through installation of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). Four are permitted per site, providing a range of live casino betting options. These are to be banned here, thus undermining existing High Street bookie network of 1000 outlets. Expect more closures of local betting shops, with continued migration of punters online and towards gaming products, rather than traditional sports/racing bets. Betting exchanges, e.g. Betfair and Betdaq have allowed customers to lay selections to lose, thereby compressing margins.

Horse Racing Ireland and Irish Greyhound Board are seeking increased state support. Currently no revenue is paid on bets struck online and through telephone betting operations. These are routinely routed through the Isle of Man or Gibraltar. This is a most unfair playing field. 1% of revenue is currently payable, irrespective of profitability, only on over-the-counter bets. The Internet doesn't recognise national territorial boundaries. Acid test for new legislation will be to ensure tax revenue exceeding €100 million. A portion of this should be earmarked to enforce a statutory code of conduct to protect the 0.3% of vulnerable gamblers.

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