21 FEBRUARY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must remain resolute in his opposition to any proposed cut in the CAP Budget. “It is unconscionable that CAP should be in the firing line for cuts under the terms of the new EU Budget for 2021-2027. The very future of Irish farming is at stake and any influence we have at EU level must be leveraged in order to put any talk of a cuts to the CAP budget to bed.”

Mr Varadkar has so far said that while Ireland is prepared to increase its net contribution to the overall EU budget, he will not accept significant cuts to CAP.

Continuing Mr Phelan said, “We cannot continue to expect our farmers to do more with less and less. It is right for the EU Budget to be ambitious, but those ambitions must be realistic and must not lose sight of the importance of securing sustainable food production systems and maintaining rural economies. Margins are being squeezed in all sectors, but particularly so in beef and sheep, and any cut in CAP would put countless numbers of farmers out of business. At the very minimum the CAP Budget needs to maintained at its current level so that farmers can remain in business and continue to produce high quality food while being expected to do more on climate change.”



20 FEBRUARY 2020

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said the last thing farmers need is for knackery services to be further disrupted. Speaking following the announcement from the Animal Collectors’ Association (ACA) that collection services are to be halted from next Wednesday Mr Farrell said, “It is very worrying that negotiations between the Department of Agriculture and the ACA on a new Fallen Animal Scheme have come to this impasse. The Department of Agriculture have dragged their heels and once again farmers will be the losers,” he said.

Continuing Mr Farrell said, “During talks, the priority for ICSA has always been the protection of a nationwide knackery service and for that service to be available to farmers at a reasonable price. Nobody wants to see a repeat of the situation we had last autumn when over 3,000 fallen animals were left uncollected on farms for an extended time due to a previous stoppage.”

“The Department of Agriculture needs to recognise the urgency of the situation and respond in a constructive manner for this issue to be resolved. There are ways to move this dispute forward and it has to be done sooner rather than later, he said.”



17 FEBRUARY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has reacted with dismay at the direction of talks regarding the EU budget which he slammed as “totally unacceptable, particularly as a massive 14% cut to the CAP is proposed even though there are much bigger asks being imposed on farmers in terms of climate change in particular.”

“The proposal from the outgoing EU Commission in 2018 for a budget equating to 1.11% of GNI was bad enough as it implied a 5% cut in the CAP. This latest proposal from EU Council head Charles Michel is a reduction to 1.074%. This equates to 14% cut in the overall CAP with Pillar 1 down 10% and Pillar 2 down a massive 25%.”

“ICSA is calling on the Taoiseach to strongly resist this. It is entirely unacceptable that farmers will be asked to do a lot more on climate change which will cost them money but the budget to support the CAP could be cut so severely.  We also need a strong signal from the EU Parliament that it will not support this budget proposal. The EU Parliament’s initial position was for a budget equating to 1.3% of GNI which is more in line with the increased ambition for EU policies. You can’t have more ambition on issues like climate change and expect farmers to be able to implement it when you are directly cutting their CAP funding by 14%.”



14 FEBRUARY 2020

Kilkenny man Ger O’Brien has been elected ICSA Suckler Committee chair at a meeting of the association’s National Executive in Portlaoise last night (Thurs 13 Feb). Hailing from Mallardstown near Callan, Mr O’Brien runs a suckler enterprise with 60 cows and works part-time as a linear scoring technician and as an AI technician.

Speaking following his election Mr O’Brien said, “Our priority in the suckler committee is to ensure the schemes in CAP Pillar 2 deliver more support for suckler farmers and are matched with stronger national co-funding. In particular we need to see a new BDGP scheme based on breeding quality beef using terminal and maternal sires, export grade weanlings and valuable cows both as calf producers and cull cows.”

“We also want to see the BEEP scheme continued with a with higher payment per head and will the demanding that live exports are fully supported by any incoming Government. These are all required to ensure the survival of the suckler sector.”

Mr O’Brien also spoke of suckler farmers being custodians of the environment, “By combining good farming practices with maintaining hedgerows and less heavily stocked farms, suckler farmers are especially well positioned to protect water quality. However, we need to see all this work rewarded through a payment for carbon sequestration.”

ICSA also wants to see a national policy devised for the international promotion of suckler beef as a niche product with the objective of increasing returns to producers. “This would include a marketing strategy for suckler beef and PGI status specifically for sucklers,” he said.



31 JANUARY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said that the end of speculation about UK membership of the EU provides a brief respite from instability which must be used to get the EU/ UK trade deal and CAP funding sorted.

The ICSA leader said that there should now be some temporary stability and upward movement around beef price. “Factories will have nowhere to hide in 2020 in citing instability which was repeatedly used as a reason for low beef prices over the last three years. There will be less reason for cold storage facilities to be packed out; sterling is likely to be more stable in the short-term and separate from all of this is the fact that beef price in North and South America is likely to remain strong in 2020.”

“None of this detracts from the urgency of getting an EU/ UK trade deal across the line. Continued tariff free access to the UK for Irish exports such as beef remains the key objective. The UK’s self-imposed deadline of December 2020 sets a highly challenging target which will be difficult to meet. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on both sides to deliver a working solution to the challenge of maintaining tariff free trade.”

“At least this part of the Brexit process is unlikely to attract as much scrutiny from the UK press now that the UK is officially out of the EU. It is to be hoped that press attention will move elsewhere to allow trade experts from both sides to work in less fraught circumstances. Obviously the roles of Michel Barnier and Phil Hogan will be central and it is welcome that both individuals are keenly aware of the vital interests at stake here.”

“The incoming government will have to hit the ground running on this to ensure that the interests of Irish beef farming are kept centre stage at all times.  Meanwhile, the other Brexit related issue is the urgency of agreeing a budget for the EU and the next Taoiseach must prioritise getting agreement with other EU leaders for a fully funded CAP with provisions made to close the gap caused by the loss of the UK net contribution.”



31 JANUARY 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has reminded farmers to complete their sheep and goat census for 2019 if they have yet to do so. “The closing date for paper-based applications is today (Fri 31 Jan) but submissions can still be made online right up until Friday 14 February. It’s a busy time of the year, but to avoid any payment issues later in the year, it’s vital to get this in on time,” he said.

Continuing Mr McNamara said ICSA is continuing to call on all political parties to commit to a second phase of the Sheep Welfare Scheme that would see a significant increase in financial benefit of the scheme to farmers. “We need to ensure the scheme continues into 2021 and beyond, and we need to see the allocated budget doubled.”

“The impact of market uncertainty around Brexit is well recognised in the cattle trade, but sheep farmers have been left to fend for themselves and many have barely managed to get through the last couple of years. The sheep scheme has worked well but it just hasn’t provided enough financial support to the sector and this must be addressed.”



28 JANUARY 2020

Edmond Phelan, ICSA president, is calling on all general election candidates and political parties to support the ICSA submission for a regulator to be appointed to audit what is going on in the food chain for produce such as beef and lamb, as part of the ICSA pre-election manifesto.

ICSA is also prioritising full support for live exports, Brexit compensation for losses sustained by cattle and sheep farmers, and a fully funded CAP which will allow targeting of funds at less intensive cattle and sheep farmers and the introduction of an agri-environment scheme that is more like REPS and less like GLAS in terms of rewarding farmers.

Mr Phelan points out that: “Agriculture is absolutely critical to this country. It is not just the fact that we export €13 billion worth of agri-food produce, it is the reality that agriculture is critical to the well-being of every single rural community in Ireland and is still central to any coherent regional development policy.

Candidates need to understand that Brexit has caused a lot of damage to the cattle and sheep sectors in 2019 and that’s why ICSA has repeatedly called for a second phase of the BEAM scheme for cattle sold after 12 May 2019 and a similar scheme for sheep farmers who were impacted by a 30c/kg fall in prices in 2019 due to Brexit.”

The ICSA leader is also very adamant that farmers are part of the solution to climate change and in addition to sequestering carbon, there is more that can be done in terms of supporting renewable energy such as biogas. But he warned all candidates that blaming farming as the main cause of climate change is not just unacceptable; it is wrong.

“2019 and early 2020 has also seen a sustained onslaught on livestock farming whereby these sectors are being targeted unfairly and with a complete lack of balance in terms of climate change and health.

It is not the case that livestock farming is the main cause of climate change on a global level. In fact, the UN FAO calculates the direct emissions (methane from the animal, slurry management) from livestock farming (including cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry) as 5% of total global emissions. The comparable figure for transport is 14%.

Of course, Ireland has targets to meet and agriculture must do its fair share but already farmers are making a concerted effort to mitigate climate change. Most importantly, grassland sequesters carbon – a carbon cycle in effect – and it makes more sense to produce meat and dairy in Ireland than to outsource it to other regions which are less efficient from a climate change perspective.”

The work that farmers undertake to combat climate change should be funded through multiple sources such as the Just Transition fund which is part of the EU Green Deal. Expecting CAP to do everything is basically imposing climate change costs on farmers.

Farmers should also be entitled to carbon credits for sequestration through grassland management, hedgerows and tree planting. ICSA believes that this must include work already undertaken by farmers which up to now has been unrecognised.

Regarding CAP schemes, the ICSA is insistent that we need a much better agri-environment scheme which will actively reward those who participate much more than those who don’t. “Under REPS, many farmers received up to €10,000 and it was paid on a whole farm basis. This is the kind of scheme that is needed if we are serious about biodiversity and climate change.”

ICSA also wants to see the following schemes prioritised under CAP Pillar 2 and stronger national co-funding:

  • New BDGP scheme based on breeding quality beef, export grade weanlings and valuable cows both as calf producers and cull cows
  • Continue BEEP scheme with higher payment per head; offer 5-year payment to farmers exiting sucklers on a voluntary basis
  • New sheep welfare scheme with double current payment
  • New organics scheme to include cattle & sheep farmers

ICSA wants to see a marketing strategy for suckler beef and PGI status specifically for sucklers. We also want a sheep task force and a wool board to examine improving returns from wool. ICSA is also arguing for a new marketing strategy for organic beef and lamb.



28 JANUARY 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has welcomed the appointment of independent consultants to undertake a review the On-Farm Market Valuation (OFMV). “It has been confirmed to ICSA that Grant Thornton will conduct this much needed review of how TB reactor cattle are valued, and compensation levels are set,” he said.

“The whole area of OFMV was much contested at the TB Forum. We know that the Department of Agriculture believe that the system is fair and that compensation levels are in fact set too high. ICSA has vigorously contested this this position and we look forward to working with the team of consultants tasked to undertake this important review.”

Continuing Mr Farrell said, “Farmers have always paid, and continue to pay, more than their fair share when it comes to the TB Eradication Programme and far from being overcompensated, they are short changed when it comes to TB compensation. In 2018 the contribution made by farmers to the TB Eradication Programme was €35.2m. This comprises an estimated €28m in bTB testing paid directly to private veterinary practitioners and €7m in disease levies.”

“In addition to their €35 million financial contribution, farmers also contribute a massive amount in terms of unpaid labour. ICSA have assessed the labour costs for farmers incurred in testing cattle to be in the order of €12.5 million. If account is taken of book work and other TB associated tasks the figure is even higher, making their real economic contribution closer to €50m annually. Meanwhile, the total for OFMV and other supports such as the Hardship Grant and Income Supplement amounts to just €18m.”

“This review will have many issues to address including whether the weekly Summary of Market Prices (SMP) constitute an accurate reflection of the market and whether independent valuers have the freedom to provide prices for reactor animals in line with market values without undue interference. These are hugely important in terms of delivering a TB Eradication Programme that is both effective and fair to farmers, and one that reflects 100% of the losses in relation to a TB outbreak.”



24 JANUARY 2020

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said the European Commission needs to forget about targeting clear herds for 30-day pre-movement TB tests. “The reality is targeting clear herds it would be of little or no benefit, while those with infected herds are tested up to three time annually as it is. The move has now been delayed, thanks to the intervention of several Irish MEPs, but it needs to be removed from the discussion entirely,” he said.

“When the EU Animal Health Act does eventually come into force, ICSA is resolute that no mandatory pre-movement testing of clear herds can be included in any form. We know that almost 97% of Irish herds are designated clear for TB, so imposing this test on farmers would be a phenomenal waste of time and money.”

“ICSA will expect the Department of Agriculture to keep the pressure on at EU level over the coming months. We also expect our Irish MEPs not to drop the ball on this one as the impact of this would be disastrous. Through the work of the TB Forum, we know exactly where resources need to be focused and this certainly isn’t one of them.”



24 JANUARY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the mandatory recording of the breed of dam on bovine passports will be of huge benefit to beef farmers. “This is something that ICSA has lobbied hard for as information relating to the dam is vital for those wishing to breed beef cattle with superior conformation and growth rates.”

“ICSA wants to see this information up on mart boards as soon as possible. However, we see this as a first step towards more precise information about dams and sires. This is particularly important so that farmers buying calves, weanlings or stores know exactly what they are getting.”

“For instance, it should be possible to know the percentage of Jersey genetics in any animal offered for sale. This would help ensure that farmers who put most effort into breeding animals with suitable attributes for beef get the rewards. Meanwhile, stock that are bred with no regard for beef traits should be priced accordingly.”