New figures indicate a sharp rise in the number of families applying for Farm Assist payments in 2009 throughout County Waterford.

Farm incomes reduced by over 30% last year, according to provisional estimates from the Central Statistics Office. These don’t include the effects of November’s flooding and the end-of-year freeze, and follows a 10% fall-off in 2008. The IFA says this is the worst incomes outlook since we joined the EEC in 1973.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy has obtained Farm Assist figures which indicate that last year 41 farms in Waterford availed of the payment. In 2009 an additional 22 applications were received and are still being assessed.

Deputy Deasy, whose father Austin was Minister for Agriculture from 1982-’87, said: “It might not seem like a big number for some people but for me it’s extremely worrying. A 50% increase in farm-assist applications within a short period of time in one of the most productive farming counties in the country tells me that we have major structural difficulties within the industry.

“For those dairy farmers who have experienced major decreases in milk prices over the past couple of years and who are producing at below cost, 2010 will be a make or break time for many of them.”

He added: “These farmers have incurred hit after hit under this Government. The cumulative affect of the cuts to their incomes as well as the enormous reductions in prices being paid for their produce will send many out of business.

“This is having a significant impact on the local economy as a whole as many local businesses have benefited down through the years from a strong and vibrant local farming community that spent its money locally.”

REPS blow

Mr Deasy has also released figures showing “the enormous benefit” the soon-to-be-closed Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) has had on farming within the county.

Almost €40 million has been dispensed to local farmers since 2004. The phasing out of the scheme was announced a number of months ago and during the recent budget process a new agri-environment fund was announced with an earmark of €50 million for the entire country.”

He sees €50 million spread between 26 counties as being “very little when you consider that Waterford has received €40 million alone from REPS in the last five years. It’s worth remembering that the EU paid for 55% of the REPS scheme and most of the money went into the local economy.

“It made very little financial sense to discontinue the scheme,” he asserts. “At the time of the announcement regarding the winding down of REPS, I felt that it would drive farmers into farm assist. The figures for Waterford are beginning to bear that out. In time this government may well be remembered by farmers in Waterford as the one that drove a large number of profitable farming entities into the ground.”

The state’s agri-advisory service Teagasc says of the REPS shut-off: “The impact this will have on family farm incomes is frightening in many cases.”