ICSA WELCOMES LAUNCH OF WOOL FEASIBILITY STUDY

11 MARCH 2021

ICSA WELCOMES LAUNCH OF WOOL FEASIBILITY STUDY

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has welcomed news that the Wool Feasibility Study announced by Minister Hackett as part of Budget 2021 is set to commence. “ICSA has been leading the drive to reverse the fortunes of wool over the last number of years and we are pleased to see this €100,000 initiative come to life. The downfall in price, particularly in 2020, was not only catastrophic for sheep farmers but it also resulted in so much of this valuable natural resource going to waste. This is something that must never be repeated,” he said.

“In response to wool prices going as low at 10c/kg and with farmers left with no option except to dump wool ICSA established the Irish Wool Steering Group in early 2020, bringing together stakeholders from across the wool spectrum to find solutions and chart a way forward.”

ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne added, “Thankfully, there are people right around the country who understand the value in what others wrongly class as a waste product. We have identified a wealth of uses for wool which span across a whole range of sectors and the priority now must be capturing that potential and delivering a viable return for sheep farmers.”

“Our work so far has exposed how our domestic supplies of wool are vastly underused. However, it is clear there is massive scope to revitalise the entire wool industry here, and we look forward to working with Minister Hackett and other stakeholders to make sure that happens.”

Anyone wishing to find out more about the Wool Feasibility Study are advised to visit gov.ie – Wool Feasibility Study (www.gov.ie). All comments and submissions should be submitted via email to woolfeasibilitystudy@agriculture.gov.ie and must be submitted to the Department by 5.30 pm on Friday 2 April 2021.

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ICSA SLATES BEEF PROCESSORS FOR PRICE CUTS AT TODAY’S BEEF TASKFORCE 

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9 MARCH 2021 

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has lambasted the beef processing sector at today’s Beef Taskforce meeting for their totally unjustified, uniform cut to beef prices in early February. Mr Graham is demanding answers about why the price was cut and who made the decision. “It is incredible that all meat processors implemented a uniform price cut at the same time even though markets are going upwards.”

Mr Graham was outspoken in insisting that the Taskforce must get to the bottom of the price cuts.  “The agreement in September 2019 provided that these grievances should be brought in the first instance to the Taskforce, and I did everything in my power to insist that they should be aired at the Taskforce today. As a result of sustained pressure from ICSA, the agenda of today’s meeting was changed but I am still not happy with the response from Meat Industry Ireland (MII). ICSA insisted that the management of the main beef processors should be asked to attend the next meeting of the Taskforce to explain the price cut in February and this was agreed.” 

Mr Graham also demanded to know how much beef has been imported to Ireland since the beginning of 2021. “I believe that imports of beef have aided and abetted the factories in cutting price and I want full information about just exactly what is going on. The Department said that information should be available in the coming weeks.”  

“Today’s Taskforce meeting saw a presentation from Bord Bia which confirmed the arguments put forward by ICSA in recent weeks that the Irish price is falling far behind the equivalent prices in the UK and continental Europe. The gap between the Irish composite price and the EU composite price has now worsened by 14c/kg. ICSA also pointed out that Irish beef price should have improved to reflect increased value of sterling relative to the euro since Christmas. Sterling is 6% stronger since Christmas but there is no sign of this in the beef price here.   

It was also notable that the price fell even though beef supplies are running 10% behind last year’s prices in Ireland. In 2020, imports of beef into the EU from international suppliers fell by 10% and that drop is continuing in 2021.”     

The Taskforce was briefed by Grant Thornton on their initial findings regarding the price composition of the beef animal along the food chain. “It is clear that their report is hampered by a lack of co-operation and information particularly at retail level. This proves that ICSA is correct in insisting that the Food Ombudsman is given extra powers to regulate and audit the food chain and ICSA will be following this up very closely in the coming months.” 

There was also a report from Teagasc on the potential for a different pricing model taking into account the yield of different cuts of beef. “ICSA is very keen that this option be further researched but it must operate on the same basis as the dairy pricing model which is that farmers need to be rewarded for adding value in terms of better, more valuable carcasses. The current grid system was brought in on the basis of price neutrality which was a mistake and the subsequent increase in dairy bred stock meant that farmers actually lost out overall. This cannot be replicated – if the overall national profile of cattle is better carcasses, then farmers overall need to see improved value returned to them.”   

On price, ICSA argued that if the food service sector starts to open up, particularly in the UK where vaccine roll-out is going very well, then there will be no excuses for price not to increase significantly above €4/kg. “Irish beef price is now totally out of line with prices in our main markets at a time when imports into the EU are falling. This cannot go on and farmers need to think very carefully before selling cattle at current prices.”  

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NEW BVD PROTOCOLS MUST BE COMMUNICATED TO FARMERS AND COMPENSATION MUST BE REVISITED 

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3 MARCH 2021 

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has again called for adequate compensation for BVD calves from the suckler herd and has urged Animal Health Ireland (AHI) to write to all breeding herd owners to outline updated BVD protocols for 2021. “AHI have moved ahead with removing confirmatory second tests when determining the presence of BVD. This means the term PI or persistently infected is now obsolete, and all animals with one inconclusive test are for removal. Moreover, this has been done without proper communication to farmers, and without any adjustment to the current compensation levels which is completely unacceptable,” he said.

Mr Farrell said ICSA has been arguing that increased compensation for calves from beef herds is required to mitigate this move. “There has been a blanket refusal to revisit levels of compensation within the BVD programme, despite additional hardship being placed on farmers. Compensation of €220 for a suckler bred calf is nowhere near the actual market value – which currently exceeds €600. Given the small number of calves involved it is incomprehensible that fair and adequate compensation for those affected is not a priority.”

“Not only that, in the event of a positive test mandatory blood testing of all females in the herd aged one year and over has been initiated, with no additional compensation provisions made for any further animals that are identified as problematic. Farmers will be instructed to remove these animals but have been given no guidance around where they should go, or how they will be compensated. These farmers will also be required to enter into a vaccination programme.”

Mr Farrell said farmers are utterly fed up with mandatory testing, and the confusion caused by the introduction of new protocols without proper information only adds to the frustration. “AHI have an obligation to address these legitimate concerns if they are serious about reaching negative herd status and bringing an end to compulsory tissue tag testing after 2022,” he said.

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BANK OF IRELAND DECISION TO EXACERBATE GROWING DETACHMENT OF BANKING FROM RURAL IRELAND 

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1 MARCH 2021 

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has said that the decision to close 103 branches of Bank of Ireland will “exacerbate the growing detachment of banks from their customers in rural Ireland. The decision will be a disaster for many bank customers who do not have access to quality broadband.  The digital divide is going to get worse before it gets better, and yet again rural Ireland is being let down.”

“In addition, ICSA is especially concerned that the decimation of the frontline relationship between the bank and its customers will play havoc with the essential credit needs of farm families and with the basics of prudent lending.” 

“More and more, lending decisions are being centralised in Dublin.  Farmers are facing increasingly restrictive decisions regarding credit, particularly in the cattle, sheep, and tillage sectors. The computer in Dublin is programmed to say dairy expansion good, no matter how grandiose; and that everything else is bad.  

“Hence we see perfectly sound propositions for stocking loans, or smaller building projects being turned down or watered down even though the farmers in question have rock solid collateral and a long track record. All of this is a consequence of the increasing de-personalisation of banking and the erosion of autonomy at local bank branch level. Closing the branches is the next step and in the long run, it will have a bad impact on the sustainability and security of a bank’s lending model.” 

“ICSA is calling on Bank of Ireland to re-consider, particularly as this comes on top of the closing of Ulster Bank in Ireland. It is in the interests of the bank as well as in the interests of the rural economy to ensure that banking services and lending are operated at a local level and based on real local understanding rather than a twenty-four hour answering machine. The answer to all banking problems is not press one for close down, press two for sell-off.”  

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TIME TO HOLD BACK CATTLE UNTIL PRICES IMPROVE 

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1 MARCH 2021 

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has called on farmers to hold back cattle from factories where possible. “Current prices of €3.70/kg are not remotely acceptable from a winter finishing perspective. However, there are signs that the trade for beef is strong and that there is no reason for farmers to accept current prices.”

“The difference between Irish and UK prime beef price is at its widest since October 2018, illustrating that farmers here are being ripped off. Beef prices, along with every other asset class, troughed in March 2020 due to Covid panic but since then EU and UK prices have recovered remarkably compared to Irish prices. Prime UK price is up 60c/kg and prime EU price is up 20c/kg compared to a very poor performance by Irish factories who are barely 10c/kg better than last March.” 

Compared to the EU composite price, we are 13c/kg behind which is the worst price performance since Autumn 2019. Even offal price is on an upward trajectory. So there is no excuse for the concerted effort to pull prices in the last few weeks and farmers must now start taking this into their own hands.” 

“ICSA is calling on farmers who are in a position to do so, to refuse to sell at €3.70/kg. Whereas some farmers are up against age limits or housing pressure, other farmers are in a position to hold back cattle. Weather is improving, grass is growing and there are plentiful supplies of fodder. ICSA believes that there is no reason why beef prices won’t increase significantly in the coming weeks if farmers resist right now. Do not sell cattle at €3.70/kg unless absolutely necessary as you will almost certainly regret it.”    

Mr Graham added that while cattle numbers remain scarce, those farmers that must sell should do so through the marts. “Factory agents are having to pay more in the marts than the factory quoted prices; it could well be a better option for most.”   

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ALL LOAN FACILITIES FOR ULSTER BANK CUSTOMERS MUST BE PROTECTED 

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26 FEBRUARY 2021 

ICSA Rural Development chair Tim Farrell is calling on the Central Bank to ensure that all credit facilities for farmers are protected as Ulster Bank withdraws from the Irish market. “We are particularly concerned about the potential impact on short and medium term facilities. Farmers with stocking loans or overdrafts rely on these facilities for their everyday farming activities. It is vital that these facilities are safeguarded for farmers,” he said.

Assurances must be given that farming customers of Ulster Bank will be able to access similar short term loan facilities as they move to other banks. Such credit facilities are absolutely critical, particularly for drystock farmers, and in many cases make the difference between being able to continue in business or not.”  

ICSA has previously met with the Financial Ombudsman and we have been reassured that term loans which are sold on are still subject to the same terms and conditions. However, the reality is that many loans have small print conditions that leave borrowers vulnerable particularly when they are trying to establish a relationship with a new bank. Obviously, the long standing ICSA policy is that we are totally opposed to loans being sold to vulture funds without the borrower’s consent.”  

Mr Farrell said news that Irish pillar banks AIB and Permanent TSB have moved to acquire portfolios of commercial and small business loans from Nat West, the parent company of Ulster Bank is to be welcomed. “This is an important development, and every effort must be made to ensure that these loan books do in fact end up with Irish pillar banks, and not with vulture funds.”   

“However, we need to go further to protect the estimated 10,000 farmers with borrowings from Ulster Bank and the further 10,000 with current account facilities. To this end, ICSA is calling on the Central Bank to ensure that there is no change in the availability of stocking loans or overdraft facilities to individual farmers. We do not want to see a farmer being offered a lower overdraft or have stocking loans withdrawn because of the transfer of accounts to AIB or PTSB. Existing credit arrangements must be protected as a condition of this changeover.”   

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NO JUSTIFICATION FOR TAGGING NEWBORN LAMBS – ICSA 

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25 FEBRUARY 2021

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said the requirement to tag both ears on newborn lambs sold through marts is unwarranted and must be abolished. “There is no logic to this requirement; it causes enormous stress to the lambs themselves, and it does nothing to enhance traceability,” he said.

“ICSA is calling for lambs up to the age of six weeks to be exempt from this requirement, whether they are being sold through the mart or to other farms. Lambs at this age are still with the breeding ewe, and as such, the ewe tag should suffice for her offspring for this six-week period.”

“Small lambs should not be subjected to this totally unnecessary burden for no reason. It is an absurd requirement that has no benefit. This is an animal welfare issue and sheep farmers are completely justified in looking for this to be changed.”

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ICSA DEMANDS ANSWERS ON POWERS OF PROPOSED FOOD OMBUDSMAN 

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24 FEBRUARY 2021 

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has called for senior officials at the Department of Agriculture to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture and the Marine to answer questions on the remit and powers of the proposed Food Ombudsman.

“The ombudsman role as constituted under the Unfair Trading Practices directive does not have sufficient powers to make a transformative change for beef farmers. ICSA has long campaigned for a regulator with robust powers and this must include the powers to forensically audit the books along the food chain, starting at processor level.”  

“It is accepted that additional legislation will be required to deliver the results farmers need by strengthening the powers of the new entity. However, we now need clarity around what legislation is actually being considered, and what this legislation will aim to deliver.”  

Mr Kelleher welcomed comments made by Senator Tim Lombard, vice chair of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee, seeking more powers for the Ombudsman’s office. “ICSA met with Senator Lombard last week to highlight the critical importance of getting this additional legislation right. We made it clear the office of the Ombudsman must have the powers to deliver absolute transparency over where the margins lie within the beef sector lie, and that will require forensic auditing. ”  

“The scale of that task should be obvious to all. It should also be obvious to all that the meat industry would run rings around an Ombudsman that was hamstrung by ineffective legislation or lack of adequate funding. There is an opportunity for us to get this right; all that is needed is the right legislation and the resources to get the job done. We cannot allow this opportunity to be fudged.”  

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MINISTER MUST INTRODUCE PROTOCOLS TO COMPEL THE BEEF TASKFORCE TO CONVENE 

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23 FEBRUARY 2021 

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said the pace at which the Beef Taskforce is conducting its business is far too slow and has called for greater scope for farm organisations to compel the Taskforce to meet. “Beef prices have been inexplicably cut in recent weeks and ICSA wants answers as to why this is happening,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we have been left high and dry by the Beef Taskforce which has not met since December of last year. We are still in the middle of a global pandemic and farmers are also still feeling the wrath of Brexit. It is inexcusable that we are being left in the dark at what continues to be a perilous time, and when the livelihoods of so many beef farmers are hanging in the balance.”

“All stakeholders at the Beef Taskforce should be answerable to one another and all stakeholders must have the ability to convene the Taskforce, and we believe Minister McConalogue has a duty to introduce such a protocol. As issues arise and beef farmers are looking for answers and guidance, it’s just not good enough that certain members of the Taskforce can simply run for cover and get away with being answerable to no one.”

“Farmers and their representatives are being left to stew until it suits the other various stakeholders to meet. Right now, we do not know when that could even happen, or even if it is the Taskforce chair Michael Dowling, the Department or the meat industry calling the shots at this point. Ultimately, the buck stops with the Minister and he must bring the necessary protocols to bear and call the situation to order. The Taskforce is supposed to be a partnership, it’s about time it started operating like one.”

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MORE RESOURCES NEEDED TO COMBAT RISING NUMBER OF SHEEP THEFTS 

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19 FEBRUARY 2021 

 ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has called for greater cooperation between authorities north and south of the border to combat the rising number of sheep thefts. “ICSA is receiving more reports of sheep rustling than ever before. While many farmers believe the perpetrators come from within their own communities, others believe their stolen livestock is ending up across the border,” he said.

“A recent incident involving an ICSA member from Wicklow saw 44 in-lamb ewes taken in one night-time raid. These were not factory fit animals so would have needed to be moved to another holding. They were valuable Cheviot mountain ewes, and the farmer involved has been left with his flock decimated and dealing with the serious financial repercussions.”

Mr McNamara said farmer frustration is mounting as there is currently very little authorities can do to recover stolen sheep and lambs. “Farmers are taking as many precautions as they can, with many grazing their sheep as far away from roads as possible and making gates more secure. Others are using distinctive markings or unique nips in ears. However, these measures often do little to deter would be local thieves, let alone sophisticated gangs moving stolen sheep longer distances. Unfortunately, sheep tags are no match for those prepared to break the law so other solutions will need to be found.”

Mr McNamara said there is the potential that the situation could deteriorate even further over the coming months as farmers put dry hoggets out to the hills. “Come mid-March and into April, lambs and hoggets can be swooped and brought straight to the factory, with no need for them to be moved elsewhere. We will all need to be extra vigilant at this time and report any suspicious activity to the Gardaí, and to our neighbours. All sheep farmers also need to be extra conscious of verifying the provenance of any sheep bought in.”

 “Sheep farmers cannot fight this battle alone however, and ultimately it is going to take more resources – given to the relevant authorities both north and south – if we are serious about stopping this scourge.”

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