MICRO-GENERATION SCHEME MUST BENEFIT CATTLE AND SHEEP FARMERS IF GOVERNMENT IS SERIOUS ABOUT RENEWABLE ENERGY

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15 JANUARY 2021

 ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed the announcement of a micro-generation support scheme but said it must benefit cattle and sheep farmers if the Government is serious about renewable energy.

“There are worrying signs that the Government is not ambitious enough to turn the potential into reality. The Government needs to walk the walk on renewable energy if we are serious about climate change and also if we want to help family farm businesses benefit.”

“ICSA will be insisting that a micro-generation scheme must allow cattle and sheep farmers in particular to utilise significant roof space on sheds for solar power. Bizarrely, the consultation documents, although allowing for selling surplus power to the grid, seem to suggest that farmers making a return on capital invested is not desirable.”

The document suggests that: “Remuneration for exported electricity is a small additional benefit in the overall context rather than a revenue generating opportunity.” 

“This pre-determined outcome betrays a lamentable lack of ambition. Why shouldn’t farmers generate revenue if they undertake a substantial investment? It suggests that the Government is completely detached from the reality of business decisions if they expect farmers to invest but then put nonsensical limits to the possibility of getting a return.”

“The reality is that most farmers do not have sufficient electricity consumption to justify this investment unless they can sell surplus power to the grid at an economically sensible price over a prolonged period. Why would the Government want to rule out all but the most large scale of dairy, pigs and poultry operations who need a lot of electricity? The plan to limit sale of surplus electricity to 30% of total electricity generated is bureaucratic nonsense which will discriminate against cattle and sheep farmers who may have a lot of roof space but low electricity consumption. This is not acceptable.”

ICSA believes that the micro-generation scheme will be a complete flop as the proposals stand. “Already we know that uptake among residential customers has been very low because the economics of retrofit are marginal. If this scheme is to be a success, we have got to get rid of barriers to farmers putting solar panels on sheds. The commitment to 70% renewable electricity by 2030 won’t be met if we tie ourselves up in knots before we begin.”

“It is also essential that the Government demonstrates to low income cattle and sheep farmers that climate change mitigation can bring benefits to them and that it wants more cattle and sheep farms to be viable. Otherwise, a clear signal is being sent by Government that they do not want beef and sheep enterprises to endure.”

“ICSA believes that we need a commitment to allow farmers to put solar panels on their sheds but this will require guaranteed index linked prices for twenty years with a view to paying off the capital invested in five years. Anything less and the Government is only paying lip service to renewable energy targets and its climate change mitigation strategy is just hot air.”

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ICSA CALLS FOR PRICE TRANSPARENCY TO BE INCLUDED AS A CONDITION OF €100m SCHEME FOR PROCESSORS

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14 JANUARY 2021

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham believes a comprehensive set of terms and conditions must be attached to the €100m Capital Investment Scheme for the Processing & Marketing of Agricultural Products, recently announced by Government. “All farm schemes have strict conditions attached to them, and these conditions must be adhered to in order to draw down funds. There is no reason for this scheme to be any different,” he said.

Mr Graham said he agreed with a Farmers Journal editorial piece on the issue which suggested that the funding should be linked to sorting out transparency around the meat industry particularly around price and profitability.

“Price transparency, from the beef processors in particular, must be included as a strict condition. It is not good enough that processors with turnovers in the billions are able to hide behind unlimited company structures. We need an ombudsman with the power to audit who gets what from the food chain and eligibility for this fund must be conditional on processors co-operating with this.”

“There must also be full visibility around how the money will be used and how it will lead to improved farm gate price.”

Ideally this money should be used in a manner that is complementary to the grass fed PGI and suckler brands. “These funds must not be used to subsidise existing marketing initiatives. We need to see new markets delivering a premium price to primary producers of premium grass fed and suckler beef.”

“To this end ICSA believes that the scheme also needs to assist smaller scale processors and smaller food companies developing niche or artisanal products. ICSA wants to see some of the fund ring-fenced for these categories rather than seeing it all hoovered up by companies with hundreds of millions of turnover in the dairy and beef sectors.”

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ICSA WELCOMES €1.05 BILLION IN BREXIT ADJUSTMENT AID SIGNALLED FOR IRELAND 

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13 JANUARY 2021

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed the announcement made by Minister Simon Coveney that Ireland is set to receive €1.05 billion in 2021 under the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve. “News that the EU Commission has proposed that 25% of this important fund should be allocated to Ireland is testament to the fact that Ireland has been, and continues to be, the country most exposed to the economic fallout from Brexit.”

“ICSA is committed to ensuring that Irish cattle and sheep farmers receive a substantial piece of this fund. Uncertainty around Brexit has severely impacted prices since the referendum was passed in 2016. Those sectors are now in year five of wrangling with the severe economic repercussions of Brexit and must certainly now be a priority when it comes to allocating these supports.”

Mr Phelan said the signing of the Brexit trade deal in December has not eliminated the potential for Brexit to continue to impact prices for the foreseeable future. “The deal has not signalled the end of the Brexit disruption faced by cattle and sheep farmers. The UK has long since been our biggest market and the threat of that market being displaced by cheaper imports from around the world remains.”

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PUSH FOR PRICES AS LAMB SUPPLIES SET TO REMAIN TIGHT 

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13 JANUARY 2021

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said lamb supplies will remain tight into the spring and continue to fuel strong demand. “Factories are crying out for lambs at present with prices up to €6.50/kg available this week. The demand is there, but farmers still need to push on price. Supplies will remain tight for a while yet, so a collective push is needed to keep the momentum going for better prices,” he said.

“With less lamb coming into Europe from New Zealand, and increased bureaucracy around UK suppliers shipping to Europe, the opportunity is there for us to increase supplies to our existing markets and also to break into new markets. But we need to see the benefits filter down to the primary producer, and while €6.50/kg is better than €6.20 or €6.30 it still does not cover the cost of production.”

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ICSA URGES FARMERS TO INSIST ON €4/KG MINIMUM FOR BEEF 

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8 JANUARY 2021 

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said farmers should stand firm and insist on a minimum of at least €4/kg in light of soaring retail demand for beef and the easing of Brexit uncertainty. “While €4/kg still does not cover the cost of production, it is the absolute minimum required to work towards a viable price,” he said.

Continuing Mr Graham said, “There is no justification for the continued price differential between Irish and UK prices. The difference, which stands at around €150/hd is a real kick in the teeth for Irish producers and increasing prices to at least the €4 mark is the only thing that will eliminate that differential. Teagasc figures illustrate that farmers need at least €4.50/kg to cover the cost of production, and that is just to break even. It’s just not good enough when increased demand for beef at retail level does not filter down to benefit primary producers in any meaningful way.”

“We have seen that most food service outlets have been well able to respond to the demand for delivery and take away options, plus we have seen the growth in retail demand. It all adds up to processors running out of excuses for failing to lift prices significantly. They can’t blame lockdowns and they can’t blame Brexit, so the time has come for farmers not to accept those arguments and to demand a decent price.”

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ICSA CALLS FOR 5% BEAM NITRATES REDUCTION REQUIREMENT TO BE SCRAPPED 

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6 JANUARY 2021

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has called for the BEAM scheme requirement to reduce nitrates production by 5% to be scrapped. “Several marts have cancelled sales that were scheduled to take place this week due to the worsening Covid situation and we are likely facing many more weeks, if not months, of disruption to trading. When you add difficulties around trading to the fact that farmers don’t have accurate nitrates figures at this point of the BEAM process, the 5% target is completely unworkable,” he said.

“The rolling 12-month nitrates figures that were issued to farmers in December do not provide the necessary clarity. It includes six months that are not relevant. While it gives some idea to stable suckler herds, it does not enable finishing herds that trade a lot of cattle to make any firm decisions. It is unacceptable that many BEAM participants cannot be sure whether they will be penalised. The payment was meant to reflect the extreme hardship suffered by farmers due to Brexit factors beyond their control. Penalties of up to 100% of the payment undo all the good and undermine the initial logic to support beef farmers.”

“There is also the potential of further huge market disruption in the spring as traditional buyers at that time of year may be unable to do so, due to the nitrates restrictions and the confusion they are causing.”

“I am calling on Minister McConalogue to take all the necessary steps at EU level to have this requirement removed from the scheme. There is no justification for beef finishers to be facing the prospect of having to hand back this badly needed aid as a result of circumstances that are outside of their control.”

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TB STRATEGY CAN ONLY WORK ON BASIS OF FAIR PLAY FOR ALL FARMERS

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18 DECEMBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said that the TB strategy won’t succeed unless it is on the basis of mutual co-operation and fair play for all farmers. “ICSA has engaged with the TB Forum from the start on the basis that we are all in this together. A minority of farmers cannot be sacrificed and that’s why ICSA is insisting on fair compensation in all cases. There are a wide range of representatives on the TB Forum but the key stakeholders are farmers and this must never be forgotten.”

“While there is agreement on the need to eradicate TB, ICSA continues to insist that the programme must be funded adequately and it will be up to the Minister to step up to the plate on this. ICSA believes that the setting up of implementation groups can help but we will not accept farmer representative exclusion from the groups. Farm organisations can bring expert insights to these and it will be vital that their deliberations are informed by practical and real understanding of the issues.”

“ICSA is insisting that all reactors are removed within seven days and that the first herd test following a breakdown can take place sixty days after the reactor is discovered rather than removed because the farmer has no control over this. We will also be insisting that the issues with wildlife are dealt with in a comprehensive manner and it is not good enough to turn a blind eye to the role of deer.”

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DERMOT KELLEHER ELECTED PRESIDENT OF ICSA

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17 DECEMBER 2020

Dermot Kelleher has been elected ICSA National President following a postal ballot of the association’s National Executive members. Following the announcement, Mr Kelleher said he was looking forward to the challenge of dealing with big issues like Brexit, CAP reform and the price of product. “I will be working night and day to make sure that cattle, sheep and tillage farmers get the best possible share of payments because they are, by far, the most dependent on them.”

Hailing from Inchigeela in West Cork where he runs a suckler enterprise, Mr Kelleher currently holds the position of ICSA vice president for Munster. He will take up his position as ICSA president at the association’s AGM in January.

Continuing Mr Kelleher said, “Brexit is on a knife edge and I will be fighting very hard to make sure that the cattle sector in particular gets fully compensated for the potentially horrendous losses. Even if there is a Brexit deal, the additional hold-ups in transport and extra red tape will add cost, and farmers must be compensated for this.”

“I am convinced that ICSA is the only organisation that has a consistent record in standing up for the cattle and sheep sectors. Other organisations come and go but ICSA has the contacts in Europe and the experience of dealing with government here. I want to unite all cattle, sheep and tillage farmers behind one strong organisation. There has been far too much emphasis on dairy expansion, and I want to balance the equation.”

“I am demanding a massive increase in the payment under agri-environment schemes. We want to see the budget for GLAS trebled in a new and much more ambitious agri-environment scheme that properly rewards those who go further for the environment. We cannot expect farmers to fund climate change and biodiversity challenges if they are losing money.”

“I will be fighting very hard to finish the job ICSA started when we looked for a regulator to oversee the beef food chain. The Food Ombudsman is a start but the office must be given the powers to investigate exactly what is going on in the food chain.”

“I intend to work very hard and I am determined to build ICSA so that we can achieve even more on behalf of all farmers in the cattle, sheep and tillage sectors.”

In a close vote, Mr Kelleher narrowly defeated ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara.

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ICSA EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED WITH REPORT ON MARKET REQUIREMENTS FOR BEEF

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17 DECEMBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said that he is extremely disappointed with the Grant Thornton report on Market and Customer Requirements of Irish Beef, which was discussed at today’s Beef Taskforce (Thursday 17 Dec). “The report does not provide any evidence of independent measurement of consumer preferences in any market. Instead, we are asked to believe a limited overview of interviews with stakeholders, predominantly in the UK, who are scrambling to find varied dubious justifications for maintaining the 30 months and 4 residencies penalties.”

“Whereas the report accepts that the genesis of the 30-month rule comes from a panic from twenty years ago about BSE, which turned out to be totally blown out of proportion, it now seems that some retailers are trying to justify the 30-month on the basis of an evolving perception within the market that finishing cattle earlier is supportive of the green agenda without the need to reduce the volume of cattle being slaughtered.”

This comment in the report is not backed up with any published research nor is there any evidence that consumers believe this. You could just as easily argue that grass-fed, slower-finished cattle that do not require substantial imports of grain from outside the EU are better for the environment.

“In any event, Irish farmers are not the ones who import beef from South America.”

Mr Phelan told the Beef Taskforce that he was astonished that the report suggests that other European markets are exhibiting more satisfactory performance in achieving desired animal welfare performance. “Who made this allegation and what is the evidence for it?”

Mr Phelan told the Taskforce that Irish agriculture was built around movements. “Suckler and dairy farmers are not generally in a position to finish beef cattle so that’s just not possible. Movements are part of our system and we need to explain that this is not a welfare issue.”

ICSA challenged the meat processors to explain why factory prices have been so poor in the second half of this year compared to the price fat cattle are making in the marts. “Our price has fallen well behind the UK price and it does not reflect the big increase in demand at retail level for beef. Even allowing for catering market disruption, the gap between UK and Irish farmer price has expanded substantially.”

ICSA asked for an update on when the Food Ombudsman would be set up. The Department said that the extra remit for the Ombudsman which is not provided for in the EU Unfair Trading Practices directive would require primary legislation which was being progressed.

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NEW ICSA PRESIDENT TO BE ELECTED THIS EVENING

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17 DECEMBER 2020

The next president of ICSA will be revealed later today following weeks of online hustings.  Two candidates are in the fray, Dermot Kelleher from Cork and Sean McNamara from Westmeath. Owing to Covid the normal ICSA election process has been changed and the decision will be based on a postal ballot of ICSA National Executive members.

It is expected that the results will be announced at a Zoom meeting of the ICSA national executive at about 7pm.  Both candidates have a long track record in ICSA.  Mr McNamara is the current ICSA sheep chairman and Mr Kelleher is the current ICSA Munster Vice president.

The winner will take office at the ICSA AGM in January where current president Edmond Phelan will step down after a hectic term of office marked by beef protests, the establishment of the Beef Taskforce, the agreement of an EU budget, CAP reform deliberations and of course, the disruption caused by Covid and Brexit.

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