ICSA WILL OPPOSE ANY MOVES TO INCREASE FARMER FUNDING OF TB ERADICATION PROGRAMME

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25 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has reacted angrily to the suggestion that farmers could be expected to fund the increasing cost of administering the TB Eradication Programme. “Through herd testing and disease levies farmers contribute over €35m annually to the programme. With less than less than half this figure channelled back to farmers through compensation measures in any given year, it is clear farmers already pay more than their fair share,” he said.

Mr Farrell was referencing Department of Agriculture commentary on the issue that suggested an increase in farmer contributions to the programme could be on the cards.

“The suggestion is even more galling given that DAFM staff costs & admin run at approximately €27.5m annually while there is no acknowledgement or recognition of the time and labour that farmers contribute. If this was taken into consideration ICSA estimates that farmer contribution would exceed €50m annually. ICSA has looked for a further breakdown of those staff and admin costs at the Department, and Minister McConalogue must deliver greater transparency around this.”

Mr Farrell said it was inevitable that successive agri-food strategies that were based on increasing the size of the overall herd would pose some challenges to the TB Eradication Programme. “While the farmer contribution is increasing through testing more animals and through more levies, it is only fair and logical that the Department contribution should increase in line with the increase in agri-food exports.”

“The target was to get to €19 billion agri-food exports and so far, we have surpassed €13 billion, representing over 30% growth in output. To a significant extent, this has occurred due to the increase in dairy cow numbers to 1.5 million by 2019 from 1 million before quota abolition, with a consequential impact on beef numbers. But you cannot plan for a 30% expansion in agri-food exports and then assume that there will be no impact on costs on department programmes such as TB.”

“However, while the expansion of the dairy herd is one of the reasons given by the Department to explain the recent increase in TB incidences, consideration must also be given to the significant rise in economic activity as a result of that expansion. All of these extra receipts to the exchequer would far exceed the increase in funding required to fund an expanding TB Eradication Programme.”

Mr Farrell said, “ICSA does not accept this seemingly never-ending narrative from the Department of Agriculture that farmers are to blame for any increase in TB levels, and we will resist all attempts to foist any additional costs onto farmers.”

“Rather than imposing more hardship on farmers, ICSA wants to see the Department focus their efforts of developing a TB test that is 100% accurate. The Department have admitted that a clear test does not mean there is definitely no TB present and vice versa, which is just not good enough. Farmers are not prepared to stump up more money for a hit and miss programme that causes extreme financial hardship for those caught up in it.”

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ONE SIZE FITS ALL PGI APPLICATION REMAINS PROBLEMATIC FOR ICSA

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24 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan said the Beef Taskforce needs to be more focused on delivering for farmers. Speaking following yesterday’s meeting, Mr Phelan said that ICSA would not support the PGI grass fed application in its current format. “While we agree in principle that PGI status is a tool to help improve farmer returns from the market place, we have serious misgivings about the proposal to cover almost all dairy derived steers and heifers because it is very hard to get a premium for everything. As purpose of a speciality designation is to achieve a premium price for a special and unique product, ICSA believes the application – in its current one size fits all format – is too diluted and undermines the potential to get a premium price for specialist suckler beef production.”

“Bord Bia made the comparison with Michelin Star restaurants but missed the obvious point that only a few very elite restaurants can get that accolade. ICSA wants to see a coherent plan to develop suckler beef as a premium product. ICSA also outlined that we are not happy with the proposed governance structures for this PGI. A PGI must be majority farmer controlled. We are deeply unhappy with the proposal to have a monitoring group with only two farmer representatives. Instead we want to see a controlling board which would have majority farmer representation.”

ICSA is also insisting on a guarantee for funding for developing a suckler brand and assisting start up farmer producers who wish to sell beef direct to market. “It is unacceptable that developing a suckler brand is contingent on getting a €3 million EU grant. A relatively miniscule amount like this should be immediately available from state resources but it should be backed up with additional funds from meat processors who have a lot to gain.”

Mr Phelan also expressed frustration that the Grant Thornton report on price composition as well as the final drafts on competition law and the relevance of in-spec conditions to market requirements had taken so long.

“We have also asked for a dedicated examination of the Brexit risks particularly because we think it is unacceptable for farmers to be expected to gamble a fortune on winter finishing in light of Brexit uncertainty. We are facing the potential of winter finishers being wiped out if they don’t have a guaranteed price for the spring. The Beef Taskforce needs to grasp this issue sooner rather than later and ICSA wants to see all the main beef processor chiefs at the next Beef Taskforce meeting.”

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BEEF TASKFORCE MUST URGENTLY ADDRESS IMMINENT BREXIT THREAT TO BEEF

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22 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the potential fallout from Brexit must be top of the agenda when the Beef Taskforce meets this week. “We are three months away from potential Armageddon and farmers simply cannot be expected to fill sheds with cattle in the coming weeks when there is unprecedented risk attached to this in light of Brexit uncertainty.”

ICSA wants to see this week’s Beef Taskforce focus in-depth on the Brexit risks. “This is the biggest threat to the future of our sector and it must be treated as urgent. The risk of tariffs being imposed on Irish beef exports to the UK from January onwards is very real. The potential for disastrous losses is manifest and turning a blind eye to this risk is unacceptable.”

“ICSA is urging Minister McConalogue to demand that individual processors appear at the Taskforce meeting. Processors can no longer be allowed to hide behind Meat Industry Ireland (MII), they need to be at the table engaging with primary producers in an open manner. Beef finishers around the country won’t fill their sheds unless some kind of stability is afforded to them, and we need to hear what processors have to offer. It is unacceptable that beef finishers should be expected to absorb all of the risk at this critical time.”

“Every effort must also be made by the Irish Government and the EU to ensure that primary producers here are protected. The EU has set aside a €5bn Brexit fund and securing that the lion’s share of that for Ireland – as the country most impacted by Brexit – must be a top priority. The amount will need to be equivalent to the cost of tariffs on an annual basis and ongoing basis. Furthermore, beef imports from outside the EU must be suspended in the event of no deal between the EU and UK.”

“We cannot continue with the business as usual approach at a time when the UK seems hell-bent on collapsing a sensible trade deal. Perhaps a bare bones deal can be pulled together at the last minute, but the stakes are now too high for burying heads in the sand.”

“Consequently, the question of the PGI status for grass fed beef should be deferred pending further negotiations. ICSA had a virtual meeting with Department officials on Friday where we re-iterated our position that the PGI status should be part of a bigger strategy to brand suckler beef as a premium product. ICSA also expressed concern about ownership and governance relating to the PGI application. Any PGI designation must be for the benefit of the primary producer and its management must be overseen by a board where farmers’ interests are protected. In particular, it is essential that the interests of suckler farmers and beef finishers are heard and protected.  We are waiting to hear back from the Department on the points raised.”

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MINISTER MUST DELIVER CLARITY ON SHEEP WELFARE SCHEME

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21 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said Minister McConalogue must deliver clarity on the future of the Sheep Welfare Scheme. “Preparations are already underway for next year’s lambing season and there has been no word on if the scheme will be rolled over into next year. Sheep farmers are none the wiser as to whether or not to include tasks relevant to the scheme in those preparations, and this needs to be addressed immediately,” he said.

“With margins so tight and with no Brexit or Covid related aid forthcoming for the sector, sheep farmers are finding it tougher than ever. Now we have been left to operate in a complete vacuum of information on the Sheep Welfare Scheme.”

As a means of supporting sheep farmers ICSA has sought a substantial top-up payment on the scheme for this year, “We believe this must now be given careful consideration. Any unused monies in the Department’s various budgets must go towards helping sheep farmers at this time. We have been at the back of the queue for too long.”

Mr McNamara also reiterated his call for a more substantial long-term package which would include a €30/head sheep payment in the next round of CAP. “The scheme has worked well so the foundation is there to build on that and offer sheep farmers a greater financial dividend for undertaking additional tasks. In the interim however, we need the scheme to roll over into 2021 and for all avenues of providing additional financial support to sheep farmers to be explored.”

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ICSA CHARTS WAY FORWARD FOR WOOL

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16 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA has today held discussions with leading figures in the Irish wool industry with the aim of charting a way forward for the wool sector with a specific focus on increasing the potential of the wool industry and increasing the return to sheep farmers for their wool.

Following the online meeting, ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara said “Today’s gathering brought together stakeholders from across the wool spectrum. We were joined by primary producers, merchants and those in the textile industry. All were agreed that the status of wool must be elevated, and that it must be viewed as a unique and valued natural resource.”

ICSA organics chair Fergal Byrne added, “Over 5 million kg of wool are produced in this country annually and we must endeavour to put it all to good use. We are not satisfied that under current EU guidelines wool is classified as a waste product and believe that this must change. Going forward wool must be considered an important commodity that can generate jobs in the green economy and also be of financial benefit to sheep farmers.”

“The reality is the future should be bright for wool. We do not want to see a repeat of scenes earlier this year when farmers had no choice but to dump wool when we know there is a variety of different uses that it can be put to.”

The group discussed the feasibility of a scouring plant for wool in Ireland and it was agreed that it should be further investigated. Currently wool is exported to the UK for this process and it may become more problematic in the context of Brexit.

“Together as a group we are determined that this environmentally friendly natural resource no longer goes to waste,” concluded Mr Byrne.

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DEPARTMENT HAVE LOST TRUST OF FARMERS OVER TB RISK STATEMENTS – ICSA

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14 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said he is disappointed with the initial response from Minister McConalogue in relation to the issuing of TB Herd History Risk Statements. “The minister is wrong in his description of these letters as ‘user-friendly, detailed and practical,’ when the reality is, they will do more harm than good. Moreover, they were not agreed to at the TB Forum and the sooner we get back around the table to sort this out the better.”

“ICSA has made it very clear at every opportunity that the forum must help chart a future direction that will be sensitive to farmers’ needs while being effective in terms of TB eradication. No programme should be about unnecessarily punishing farmers trying to make a living, which is what is happening as a result of these letters. The Department have lost the trust of farmers and their representatives over this issue.”

Mr Farrell was also critical of recent comments made by UCD’s Professor Simon More who said, ‘We cannot guarantee when a herd tests negative that the herd is in fact free’. “This calls into question the entire efficacy of the TB testing regime. If we can’t guarantee that that a negative test result means negative for TB, then conversely how can we be certain that a positive test is actually positive? How many herds have been locked up over the years, causing great financial hardship, that never had TB in the first place?”

Further, Mr Farrell questioned Professors More’s assertion that we need to move to ‘a spectrum of risk.’ “It’s all very well having complex theories on eradicating TB, but they must be workable on the ground and must take into account the possible devaluation of herds. None of this has been done in advance of the issuing of herd risk statements here.”

“It is also wrong to think that a system that has worked in Australia or New Zealand can just be transposed here when our farming systems and wildlife environments are vastly different.”

“Many of the drivers of TB are out of the farmers’ control and it is these areas we need to focus on. Progress with the wildlife strategy is crucial to any strategy to eliminate TB. Yet the situation we have here is the badger vaccination programme is unreliable and the Department has done nothing on controlling the spread through wild dear. Nor have they met their own goals on the removal of reactors or agreed to any revision of compensation packages. It’s just not good enough.”

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ICSA OPPOSITION TO CURRENT PGI APPLICATION

 

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14 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA has made a comprehensive submission to the National Opposition Procedure for the application for a PGI status for “Irish Grass Fed Beef” by Bord Bia. ICSA suckler committee chairman Ger O’Brien explained that “ICSA opposes the one size fits all application because it is too diluted and undermines the potential to get a premium price for specialist suckler beef production.”

He added that ICSA, as an officially recognised representative association of suckler and beef farmers, has a legitimate interest in the application and ICSA is concerned about the future viability of the suckler sector.

“This application represents a missed opportunity to build a brand around suckler beef. It is a less intensive farming system with much lower use of medicines and outside interventions. It offers the highest level of animal welfare and it is critical to the economies of disadvantaged areas.”

“ICSA contends that the concept and purpose of a speciality designation is to achieve a premium price for a special and unique product. In order to satisfy the demands of beef processors and dairy farmers, the outcome is that the potential to achieve a premium price for suckler beef is compromised.”

ICSA is opposing this application on the following grounds:

  1. The inclusion of most dairy derived beef means that it is too diluted to achieve a premium price for suckler beef.
  2. There has been insufficient consultation with the primary producer.
  3. There is no clarity about the ownership of the PGI.  PGI is primarily about delivering a better return to a group of producers but this application is completely vague about to whom or how the benefits will accrue.
  4. The EU Commission has suggested that these designations typically return a premium of 30%.  However, Bord Bia has played down any ambition for a premium price and suggested it might be worth 5%.  This is no good for suckler farmers and there is a real fear that the PGI application, in its current format will end up being a bolt-on to the BQAS which is already very contentious due to the addition of spurious in-spec requirements by beef factories (such as the four residencies, 30 months etc).
  5. The creation of a generic PGI for grass fed beef is totally incoherent with the promise by Bord Bia to develop a suckler or natural beef brand and if it goes though in its current format, it will signal the end of any determined effort to brand suckler beef as a speciality product.
  6. The exclusion of R&U grade young bulls (under 16 months) further disadvantages the suckler sector and this has not been properly consulted on.
  7. Farmers feel aggrieved that there has been too much weight given to the interests of processors whereas the primary beneficiary of a PGI should be the primary producers.
  8. The starting point of an application must be firmly rooted in the objective of getting a premium and viable price for suckler beef, even if this premium price is limited in scope to a certain quantity.  It is absolutely unacceptable to dilute this potential by including potentially all the off-spring of 1.5 million dairy cows.
  9. There has not been sufficient explanation of the colour requirements for the meat and fat and this cannot be used by meat processors as a means to deny any premium and penalise farmers.
  10. There is a fear that additional bureaucracy will be imposed on all farmers but with very little upside in terms of price.
  11. There is a lack of detail around the concentrate feeding of animals.  Although it refers to 90% grass or grass based feed, it is silent on the issue of whether Irish grains are to be used or whether imported GM feeds from South America are acceptable.  This further militates against a truly unique PGI which is different from other EU countries.
  12. There has been failure to adequately consider the interests of beef breed societies.
  13. There is no dedicated oversight process or board to manage the PGI in which the interests of farmers can be protected, in line with the concept of PGI which is producer focused.  Therefore, there should be a steering group/ board with majority farmer representation.

In conclusion, ICSA submits that this PGI application has failed to allocate sufficient weight to the need for using PGI status as a targeted intervention to deliver a premium price for suckler beef farmers.

ICSA is therefore insisting that there needs to be a full consultation with farmer representatives to agree a strategy for PGI going forward before this application is progressed any further and is therefore objecting to it in its current format.

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RAFT OF MEASURES NEEDED TO PROVIDE URGENT SUPPORT FOR TILLAGE FARMERS

 

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11 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA Tillage chair Gavin Carberry has said tillage farmers are in dire straits owing to a disastrous succession of weather events and is calling on  Minister McConalogue to introduce a raft of measures to support the sector, “At this point, tillage farmers need urgent financial support. ICSA believes this can be done through a variety of methods but that it must include a targeted aid package,” he said.

“The exceptionally wet autumn in 2019 led to a reduced winter cropping area. This was followed by an early summertime drought, two summer storms, and with the on-going inclement weather things have reached a tipping point for tillage farmers. A rescue package for the sector is now an urgent requirement.”

“In addition, ICSA is calling for the introduction of a financial bonus for the inclusion of native grain in meal rations. Problems in the sector are being compounded by the importation of foreign grain which continues to undermine the price for local growers at this critical time.”

“ICSA also wants the Minister to waive the GLAS requirement to sow catch crops by the 15 September for this year, given the fact that such a large proportion of the crop remains uncut. In many places there are also vast quantities of straw still on the on the ground, yet to be baled and deteriorating rapidly. A crop insurance scheme must too be given serious consideration.”

“Tillage farmers are finding themselves in the same predicament as those in other sectors. As primary producers we produce a world class product with full traceability but are not provided with the financial support or rewards we need to stay going. ICSA is calling on Minister McConalogue to pull out all the stops and ensure Irish tillage farmers get a fair hearing and the help they need.”

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ICSA ENCOURAGES ALL THOSE WITH ELIGIBLE ANIMALS TO APPLY FOR BEEF FINISHERS PAYMENT

 

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8 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham is encouraging all farmers to check if they have animals eligible for the Beef Finishers Payment ahead of Wednesday’s deadline. “The eligibility status of animals can be checked through your advisor or directly via the AgFood portal. Farmers have until 5pm tomorrow (9 Sept) to get their applications in.”

Mr Graham said the importance of the compensation package could not be underestimated. “While the €50m budget is insufficient to cover the total losses incurred by beef finishers, the fund will go some way towards keeping the show on the road for many. The application process is simple, and I would encourage all those with eligible animals to apply without delay.”

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ICSA CALLS ON MINISTER MCCONALOGUE TO CHAIR TB FORUM

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8 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has called for the immediate reconvening of the TB Forum, and for it to be chaired by the Minister. “The TB risk letters debacle is a sign of how the TB Forum has been derailed. It is now essential that Minister McConalogue gets to grips with the TB programme which is at risk of losing all support from farmers,” he said.

Mr Farrell rejected comments from the Department that the move to issue TB Herd History Risk Statements was agreed to at the TB Forum. “The breakdown in TB policy between farmers and officials now needs urgent Ministerial intervention. This is down to the fact that most of the proposals from farmer representatives have been ignored whereas department officials are driving on with dubious actions such as explicit herd categorisation which had been categorically rejected at the Forum.”

“Moreover, it is absurd that the Department now maintain that these letters do not require farmers to do anything when the letter clearly advises farmers to cull cattle. It is obvious the Department know they are on thin ice because their actions go so far beyond what was even discussed, let alone agreed to at the Forum.”

“ICSA also believes that the TB letters are a breach of data protection rules because it is possible in many instances to determine the TB status of a farmer from whom you have bought stock, based on the information set out in the letter.”

Mr Farrell contrasted the implementation of the letter – which was not in a format agreed – with the failure to live up to commitments by the Department. “Even though it was agreed that reactors would always be removed within seven days of agreed valuation, we are still getting reports that this target is not being met consistently. We have also heard of cases of reactor calves being put down (shot) on farms by the knackery services, a practice that has been highlighted in the past by ICSA, and which again is something that must not happen.”

“There are also complaints about how inconclusives are being dealt with. We need a clear message about what protocols apply to inconclusives and this must only apply to current inconclusives. ICSA does not accept that an animal that has subsequently passed one or more tests can still be regarded as inconclusive. Likewise, it does not inspire confidence in testing if we are now being told that an animal that is consistently testing clear should be culled because once upon a time, it was in a herd where there was a reactor.”

“Meanwhile, there is complete frustration about the inadequacies of a badger vaccination programme. Unless we have a commitment to dealing with wildlife spread, that would include deer as well a revised badger culling and testing regime, there is no point in all of these contentious pronouncements and actions by the Department.”

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