MINISTER COWEN MUST COMMIT TO NEW ORGANICS SCHEME

10 JULY 2020

ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne has called on the Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen to give an assurance that the Organics Scheme will roll over into 2021. “Ireland now has over 1,700 organic farmers and the focus must be on building those numbers. The current Organics Scheme comes to an end for most participants at the end of this year, and ICSA is looking for a commitment that the scheme will continue and be improved upon,” he said.

“The Organics sector needs considerable new investment if it is to expand in any meaningful way. The EU Farm to Fork strategy contains an EU wide target of 25% (in terms of the area farmed) to be set aside for organic farming by 2030. This is an ambitious target and one that makes it clear we need to do so much more when it comes to Organics.”

“ICSA wants to see farmers from all sectors given the opportunity to move to organic farming and for them to be given the necessary support to do so. The last call for applications under the Organics Scheme prioritised the tillage, dairy and horticulture sectors, while cattle and sheep farmers were side-lined. ICSA does not want to see a repeat of this, and all farmers prepared to make the switch to organic farming must be facilitated through a new and improved Organics Scheme.”

ICSA is proposing that increasing the payment per hectare to €250 is warranted for full symbol Organic farmers, with a conversion payment of €300/ha for those transitioning to organics. “This would both encourage farmers to switch their systems and give them the best opportunity to succeed with the scheme.”

ICSA also wants to ensure that actions in any future REPS type scheme do not overlap with actions in the Organics Scheme. “This could result in farmers having to choose between the two schemes and would be detrimental in the long run. Organic farmers must be given equal opportunity to join REPS and get paid for both schemes.”

The protein premium for whole crop beans of €100/acre must also be revisited. “The current payment for protein crops is too limiting and out of step with the current practices of organic farmers. ICSA is proposing that both mixed cropping and combi crops with pea, barley and oat mixes are included under protein payments.”

“All of these efforts must be underpinned by a strategy to further develop markets for organic produce. Consumer studies across Europe suggest that the market opportunity is far greater than the size of the supply. There can be no justification for a country that prides itself on its Origin Green strategy to be such an under performer in the Organics sector.”

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DISGRACE AS TESCO UK DEMANDS SUPPLIERS CUT PRICES

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8 JULY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has described the move by Tesco UK to demand suppliers drop their prices as disgraceful. “Tesco UK is one of our biggest customers for beef, but once again the power wielded by major retail corporations has been exposed for all to see. Expecting suppliers to cut their prices while they disregard production costs is unconscionable,” he said.

“The move is particularly galling as it comes on the back of bumper grocery sales over recent months.”

Tesco UK has reported that while the number of trips made by shoppers fell by nearly one third in the 13 weeks to 30 May, the amount being bought rose 64%.

“This is a real slap in the face for beef farmers and it clearly demonstrates the necessity of having the major retailers present at the Beef Taskforce. Beef farmers cannot produce beef at below the cost of production and expecting farmers to do so is exploiting them, not supporting them. This is the reality that will have to be accepted by all retailers.”

“The lack of solidarity being shown by Tesco UK to their suppliers is staggering, particularly as we try to navigate the new normal following Covid-19. No sector has come out unscathed, but Tesco suppliers have kept going during the pandemic and kept the shelves of Tesco stocked throughout. It is unbelievable to think that this is how they repay them,” he said.

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ICSA DEMANDS EXPLANATION FOR IMPORTS OF 500,000 LAMBS PER YEAR

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8 JULY 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has called on Minister Barry Cowen to address the issue of sheep imports as a matter of urgency. “Figures obtained show that in any given year approximately half a million lambs are imported into the Republic for slaughter. Is it any wonder Irish sheep farmers have a hard time selling their stock or getting a fair price?”

Mr McNamara said ICSA is calling on the Department of Agriculture to provide;

  • Weekly reports on the number of lambs imported, and from where.
  • Full transparency around which markets these imported lambs are servicing.
  • A comprehensive explanation on how farmers can be assured these lambs are not being sold as Origin Green lambs.
  • An outline of the veterinary protocols imposed and traceability requirements on all lambs at the point of export before they come to Irish meat factories.

Continuing Mr McNamara said, “As an exporting country, sheep farmers deserve to know why these lambs are being brought in and in such big numbers. If the purpose is not to keep a lid on prices, then what is it? Why do processors need to go elsewhere to procure up to 10,000 lambs a week when local farmers would be prepared to supply the desired numbers, given a fair price. This lack of a fair price is precisely the reason so many of our sheep farmers can see no future.”

“We also know that around 20% of lambs imported are coming from further afield than the north of Ireland, and there are significant costs associated with bringing them in. It is clear this is being done at the expense of local producers who constantly get hammered on price. It’s time for a determined effort to level the playing field.”

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ICSA WELCOMES THE APPOINTMENT OF MARTIN HEYDON AS JUNIOR MINISTER AT THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

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2 JULY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed the appointment of Martin Heydon to the position of Junior Minister for Horticulture, Food and Forestry at the Department of Agriculture. “ICSA looks forward to engaging with Minister Heydon on ensuring that transparency along the food chain is delivered, and that a Food Ombudsman has the necessary powers to enforce this transparency. ICSA will also be pushing for EU regulations around food labelling to be tightened up and implemented without delay.”

“For the forestry sector ICSA is calling on Minister Heydon to urgently address the range of issues that are preventing people from getting into forestry, most notably the requirement to replant land.”

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NEW SHEEP WELFARE SCHEME MUST BE PRIORITISED

30 JUNE 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said a bigger and better Sheep Welfare Scheme must be top of the agenda for new Minister for Agriculture, Barry Cowen. “The Sheep Welfare Scheme will draw to a close at the end of this year and for the scheme to be developed and continue in 2021 we must plan for this immediately. There can be no doubt however that the budget for the scheme will need to be increased significantly,” he said.

“ICSA is proposing that an increased payment of €30 per ewe could be achieved with the addition of several bolt-on measures to the scheme. The scheme has worked well but we know there are additional tasks that could be introduced to justify such an increase.”

“Wool is now a loss-making enterprise for sheep farmers. As wool prices fall ever lower, it has become an animal welfare issue and must fall under the Sheep Welfare Scheme in future. The branding of sheep and sheep dipping must also be included.”

“The sheep sector has not received the attention it deserves, and this will have to change. Sheep farmers have never received any exceptional aid during recent tough times, unlike their dairy and beef counterparts. ICSA has repeatedly looked for BEAM type scheme for sheep and this must still be given careful consideration.”

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ICSA WELCOMES MINISTER BARRY COWEN AND OUTLINES KEY PRIORITIES

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29 JUNE 2020

 ICSA president Edmond Phelan has congratulated Barry Cowen on his appointment as Minister for Agriculture and the Marine. “ICSA looks forward to forging a strong working relationship with Minister Cowen with a focus on delivering economic sustainability to cattle and sheep farmers along with environmental benefits to all.”

“First and foremost, the Minister must deliver total transparency in the food chain and ensure that neither processor nor retailer can abuse their dominant positions. To this end ICSA is insisting the promised Food Ombudsman is installed without delay. Farmers are continuously striving to be more efficient but every incremental gain in efficiency is stolen by an unregulated processing and retailing sector driving down farmgate price, and this must change.”

“A new REPS type scheme is also a must. ICSA is calling for a trebling of the current GLAS budget to facilitate such a scheme, given the numbers of farmers it would hope to attract. An annual budget of €750m, or three times the current GLAS budget, would be the minimum required. It is no longer acceptable to expect farmers to do more on climate change without the resources to do so.”

“ICSA is adamant that a suckler based application for EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is vital for the survival of that sector. Suckler beef must be developed and promoted as a special high value product, and ICSA will be vigorously opposing the inclusion of all beef in the pursuit of such a protected status.”

“A new and improved Sheep Welfare Scheme must also be a top of the agenda for the Minister. The scheme is coming to an end and we must have something in place to replace it. However, it is clear the funding will need to be significantly increased from 2021 onwards. The sheep sector has not been supported enough and viability within the sector has become a major issue and can no longer be ignored.”

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NEW REPS REQUIRES GLAS BUDGET TO BE TREBLED

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26 JUNE 2020

ICSA Rural Development chair Tim Farrell has said a trebling of the current GLAS budget is the only realistic way to approach a new REPS type scheme. “The hope is that 70,000 farmers will opt into the scheme and in order to facilitate those numbers an annual budget of €750m would be the minimum required. This amounts to a trebling of the current GLAS budget.” he said.

Mr Farrell made his comments following a meeting of the associations Rural Development Committee.

Continuing he said, “The mooted ringfencing of €1.5 billon in carbon taxes could therefore cover a maximum of five years, because that is the length of agri-environmental schemes, and only then if it was matched with monies from elsewhere. However, through a combination of those carbon tax revenues, exchequer funding from the state and steering a portion of CAP monies in more targeted ways, farmers could have the potential to make a real difference. But the time has come to give those farmers the means to deliver on ambitious targets and reward them for their contribution.”

“Farmers were let down by the drastic cuts in payments when they moved from the original REPS, through AEOS and on to GLAS, which coincided with an increasing expectation that farmers should do more on climate change and biodiversity. Those expectations are still there, but the penny must drop that those expectations cannot be met without adequate levels of financial support and reward. Most farmers struggle to make ends meet as it is so they simply cannot fund a climate mitigation solution for the entire country.”

“ICSA also wants to see farmers given a real say in devising the scheme to ensure it can work on the ground and deliver a real financial benefit to them. It is crucial that farmers don’t face excessive planning costs as a result of engaging with the scheme.”

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RESTRICTING FARMERS ON THE BASIS OF INCONCLUSIVE TB RESULTS IS A STEP TOO FAR

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26 JUNE 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said the Department of Agriculture was wrong to introduce new TB protocols around the removal of inconclusives in advance of the substantive issues around compensation being decided upon. “ICSA has been looking for compensation levels to be increased since the outset of the TB Forum, but no decisions about updating compensation have been made to date. The work of the TB Forum is not complete without the matters around compensation being resolved. Yet, the Department have moved ahead and introduced further measures that will impact farmers financially. This is grossly unfair,” he said.

The revised guidance from the Department is that when a breakdown occurs, cattle which previously tested inconclusive within the herd should be removed as in-contacts, and that when four or more inconclusives are disclosed at a herd test, they should be deemed reactors.

“ICSA does not dispute the need for the guidelines around inconclusives to be firmed up, but restricting herds based on inconclusive results is a step too far. Inconclusives should not be deemed reactors unless they are part of a TB breakdown and a herd should not be locked-up on the basis of having inconclusives alone under any circumstances.  Farmers deserve scientific proof that there is TB on their farm if they are to be expected to take a big financial hit by being locked-up. Can they give us a definition of what exactly an inclonclusive is, or how farmers can have any confidence in a system that would be based on completely subjective analysis?”

Further, ICSA is insisting that a clear result at an annual herd test be valid for one year. “Too many farmers are receiving notifications about doing their herd tests months in advance of their due date. Being forced to complete herd tests early is unacceptable as the herd has been deemed in-test, and this should remain the case for a period of twelve months, and no less.”

Mr Farrell is also asking that the TB test exemption for calves aged up to 120 days be removed. “This was introduced as a temporary measure as a result of Covid-19. It has served its purpose and we must now revert back to 42 days as a matter of urgency if we are serious about eradicating this disease.”

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ICSA INSISTS SUCKLER BASED PGI IS ONLY VIABLE OPTION AT BEEF TASKFORCE MEETING

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25 JUNE 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has insisted a suckler based application for EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is the only realistic option at a meeting of the Beef Taskforce today (Jun 25). “ICSA wants to see segmentation of the market whereby suckler beef is developed as a special high value product. Any proposal that excludes suckler young bulls but would include 10-year-old dairy cows is unworkable,” he said.

Mr Phelan said there were many questions yet be to be answered around the ownership rights associated with a suckler brand or PGI status, given that it depends on farmers’ data and work. “ICSA is insisting that primary producers must own the PGI status; Bord Bia cannot own it if they are the auditor. The whole concept of PGI means it cannot be owned by multinational industry,” he said.

Today’s meeting of the Beef Taskforce by video conference comes on the back of repeated requests from ICSA to reconvene the group amid the crisis in the sector brought about by Covid-19.

ICSA also raised the issue of the price differential between cattle sold in the north of Ireland as opposed to the Republic. “There can be no justification for Irish producers being €150/hd down on their northern counterparts.”

“An update was given from Grant Thornton on the status of their report into Competition Law as it relates to the Beef Sector. While we await this report, ICSA remains in no doubt that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is not fit for purpose. Further commissioned reports on Market and Customer Requirements and the Price Composition of the Total Value of the Animal along the Supply Chain are also in train but require additional cooperation from all relevant stakeholders.” Mr Phelan said.

ICSA reiterated the urgency of reopening the Chinese market to Irish beef. “This market has been closed since 22 May. There has been ample time to sort out this procedural matter and more must be done to speed up the process,” Mr Phelan said.

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ICSA LOOKS FOR CLARITY ON NUMBERS OF IMPORTED LAMBS

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23 JUNE 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has called on the Department of Agriculture to publish the number of lambs that have been imported from the north and Great Britain since the beginning of 2020. “These imports are causing huge disruption for local farmers who can’t even get quotes for lambs while they see truckloads of lambs arriving on UK registered lorries. It’s a disgrace.” he said.

“Processors are constantly playing a numbers game with their suppliers and are using these imported lambs to keep prices down. ICSA understands that at one factory in Leinster today (June 23) one third of the lambs being processed are from England or the north. This has to stop if sheep farmers are to have any hope of covering their cost of production.”

“As it currently stands, many sheep farmers can see no point in continuing to produce lambs when they are being consistently undermined by the influx of imported lambs. Week after week they see their hard work and effort amounting to nothing, while processors pull all the strings. This is causing untold frustration amongst farmers who just want to be treated fairly, and why we need clarity on how many lambs are coming in, and why.”

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