27 MARCH 2020
ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said there is a groundswell of support at EU level for comprehensive supports for the food and agriculture sector in the light of Covid-19. “This must be reflected in the actions and policies at Government level. In particular, calls for an Extraordinary Agricultural Programme at the recent EU Farm Council meeting must be brought to fruition.”
The key message which ICSA is strongly supporting is that this unprecedented crisis cannot be fully tackled within the already stretched resources of the Common Agricultural Policy. “Limiting ourselves to the CAP means robbing Peter to pay Paul and that is a totally unworthy response to this devastating crisis particularly as society, now more than ever, needs farmers to stay strong and to stay viable.”
ICSA wants to see the Government push very hard for extra funds from the European Central Bank (ECB) to be made available in addition to the CAP for an Extraordinary Agricultural Programme. In addition, ECB funding should be available to the banking sector as a means of allowing re-payment holidays on bank loans as well as additional low cost credit to support cash flow on farms.
“The closure of marts coupled with serious volatility in the beef and lamb markets will play havoc with the cash flow on many farms at a time when money will be needed for fertiliser, meal, diesel and, shortly, for first cut silage.
“Therefore, the Government should insist that the pillar banks offer a one year re-payment holiday on farm and business loans. These re-payments should be added, without penalty, to the end of the loan and in the meantime bank liquidity should be supported with equivalent money from the ECB, at zero interest. Vulture funds should also be forced to comply.”
ICSA is also calling for an Extraordinary Agricultural Programme which would put in place a robust crisis fund. This could be used to support a programme of Aids to Private Storage or Intervention buying for beef and lamb. The key here is not to have an open-ended programme; rather a programme of limited quantities where specific markets have evaporated (eg closure of McDonald’s, loss of demand for lamb in France). However, the price must be set to ensure no price drop for farmers.
“We should also examine the case for a price collapse support fund along the lines of BEAM but covering the sheep sector as well as the cattle sector.”
The programme should also provide funding for extra promotion of EU fresh meat products with a focus on encouraging consumers to cook using fresh EU produced foods.
ICSA is also insisting that we need to look very quickly at how we can support farmers who are forced to self-isolate. “Farmers are extremely worried about how their farm will be managed if they get sick and it is clear that the €350/ week payment will not pay for replacement labour at a busy time. There will also need to be flexibility around work permits, provided that precautions such as Covid testing are done.”
ICSA is also pushing very hard for a flexible approach around inspections and conditionality around EU schemes, and TB testing. “This must be led by the EU so that maximum use of remote sensing and a reduction in the percentage requirements for inspections are put in place. We cannot have a scenario where unnecessary farm inspections are taking place for fear of EU sanctions or delays in payments.”
“In relation to TB testing, ICSA supports farmers being able to delay the herd test where the farmer or vet has a reason to self-isolate and that this should be possible without sanctions on the farmer. ICSA is insisting that such farmers should be able to continue to sell stock to a meat factory or feedlot and that prohibitions on buying in should be set aside for the moment.”
ICSA is insisting that marts must be allowed to facilitate livestock sales through weighing and guaranteed payment services. “The closure of the mart is a serious blow to many farmers, and we want to ensure that marts are kept in business for the duration of the ban and to help farmers who are worried about secure payment. In addition, marts can make sure that AIM database requirements are fully complied with.”
The ICSA president also said that keeping live exports running smoothly was absolutely vital. “We note that over 35 NGOs, including Irish groups, are lobbying the EU for a ban on live exports. ICSA completely rejects this and is calling on all MEPs to stand with the farming community at this difficult time. Live exports are absolutely vital at a time when whole markets for beef and lamb are being impacted and instead of playing politics, we need green lanes at borders to reduce any unnecessary delays.”