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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ICSA SETS OUT COHESIVE PLAN FOR DISTRIBUTION OF €50 BEEF FINISHER SUPPORT FUND

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19 JUNE 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has set out the association’s position on the on the distribution of the €50m beef finisher support package. “The priority for ICSA is to see the entirety of the fund allocated appropriately and fairly. The €50 million should be divided equally among all eligible animals for which an application has been submitted. The scheme should not operate on the basis of a fixed amount per head because that would run the risk of unused funds reverting to the exchequer.”

Continuing Mr Graham said, “It is important to note that €50 million is insufficient to cover the losses incurred by beef finishers and that ICSA believes that weanling and store producers plus sheep farmers have also been impacted by Covid-19. However, for the purposes of this fund strict eligibility criteria should apply.”

“The fund should be allocated on the basis of cattle sold in the period December 2019 – June 10, 2020. This time frame orientates the compensation towards higher cost winter finishers who would have anticipated a better market had Covid-19 not arisen.”

ICSA proposes the following animals would be eligible:

    • Only stock over 12 months of age
    • All bulls, heifers and steers sold to slaughtering plants in Ireland
    • Suckler cows sold to slaughtering plants in Ireland
    • Finished animals sold in a livestock mart and slaughtered within 30 days of the mart sale
    • Finished animals sold for live export to Northern Ireland, Algeria and Libya.

“In the case of animals sold in the mart, the farmer who sold the animal in the mart would be eligible for the payment provided the animal was slaughtered within 30 days of the mart sale and provided the farmer who sold the animal in the mart owned the animal for at least 70 days prior to the mart sale. Similarly, only farmers who owned an animal for at least 70 days would be eligible for payment on animals live exported for slaughter.”

“ICSA is proposing that the maximum number of animals eligible per farmer should be capped at 200 head and that livestock owned by meat factories or produced from feedlots owned by meat factories should be ineligible. To ensure these funds reach those it was intended for ICSA is also proposing that dairy cows be excluded.”

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BAD NEWS KEEPS COMING FOR SHEEP FARMERS

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19 JUNE 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said this week’s price cuts are yet another blow for sheep farmers, having been left out of any Covid-19 support packages thus far. “The bad news just keeps coming for sheep farmers. Our markets have been impacted, wool prices are below the floor and processors continue to ignore the real costs associated with producing lambs and keep slashing prices.”

“On Monday quotes were coming in at €5.90/kg. By Tuesday they were at €5.75/kg and today the best I’m hearing is €5.40/kg. The simple fact is that it costs money to rear lambs to the highest specifications, and those costs are growing. We cannot continue with a situation whereby on a Monday you might have some chance to cover your costs but by Thursday, you haven’t a hope.”

“Too many lambs are still coming in from the UK and the north and it’s a big part of the problem. There is no level playing pitch when local sheep farmers are having to compete with lambs brought in from elsewhere and wreak havoc on prices.”

Mr McNamara reiterated his call for a Family Farm Support Package that would assist all family farms with the fallout from Covid-19. “Sheep farmers were not excluded from the economic impact of Covid-19 and should not be excluded from any compensation measures,” he said.

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FARMERS CAN’T CONTINUE TO FEED CATTLE AT CURRENT PRICES

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18 JUNE 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said there is no excuse for factories to keep prices at the current low levels. “The low take-up of Aids to Private Storage (APS) illustrates that factories are needlessly keeping prices at an unsustainably low level. Demand is clearly exceeding supply and factories have no business keeping downward pressure on prices,” he said.

Latest European wide figures on APS indicate that Irish processors have placed just 20 tonnes of beef, or 1.32% of the EU total, into storage.

“Meanwhile, soaring supermarket demand in the UK has seen beef prices there continue to rally. So much so that prices paid to UK farmers have increased by £0.40/kg over the last number of weeks and are now at their highest point for more than 12 months. By June 10, British farmers were getting £3.63/kg which breaks the €4.00/kg mark when converted. Processors here have just been far too slow in getting back to realistic pricing levels and they’re just not going to get away with it much longer.”

“Processors are misguided if they believe that farmers will continue to finish beef at today’s prices. Cattle cannot be fed at current prices and farmers will just stop doing it. If the demand is there, factories are going to have to get real and pay a price that at least covers the cost of feeding the animals they need to stay in business.”

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ICSA PLEASED TO SEE ICSA POLICIES INCLUDED IN PROGRAMME FOR GOVERNMENT

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15 JUNE 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said that the agriculture chapter of the Programme for Government contains a number of measures that ICSA has been lobbying for over recent years. “At last, we are pleased to see a commitment to a better funded REPS type agri-environment scheme which will add carbon tax receipts to CAP funding. In recent years, schemes such as GLAS and AEOS were poorly funded substitutes for the old REPS scheme and we must have an ambitious scheme that really rewards farmers who deliver on biodiversity, landscape and climate change measures.”

ICSA is also pleased to see a commitment to a National Food Ombudsman who will have power to enforce the Unfair Trading Practices directive and also scrutinise pricing in the food chain. We want to see this role given real powers to examine who makes what from the food chain because livestock farmers have seen their prices consistently reduced while consumer prices remain steady. ICSA first proposed the idea of a regulator/ombudsman in 2014 and it is good to see that we are finally seeing movement in that direction. It is reassuring to see ICSA policies included in the Programme for Government.”

ICSA is also welcoming the proposal to establish an independent Agricultural Appeals Review Panel with farmer representation.

ICSA is also welcoming other commitments which the association has advocated for including:

  • A review into the potential to develop alternative income possibilities for wool including fertiliser and insulation.
  • Commitment to continuation and improvement of existing schemes for suckler and sheep farmers.
  • Commitment to developing the organic sector with a focus on growing the market for organic livestock, as well as expanding organic cereals.
  • Recognition that live exports are vital to competition in the livestock trade.
  • Support for small scale food producers to develop direct routes to market.
  • Develop opportunities in anaerobic digestion.
  • Review the potential for hemp and protein crops to provide new outlets for tillage farmers.
  • Focus on supply of Irish grains to Irish food and drinks sector.
  • Support for 1 hectare of diverse forest or habitat as a voluntary measure.

“ICSA is pleased that the overall tone of the chapter is positive in terms of fighting for a full funded CAP and using new revenue sources such as carbon tax to deliver better supports to farmers. We cannot keep expecting farmers to do more with less and it is really important that this programme follows through with a substantial injection of carbon tax funding to farmers, given that carbon tax has unfairly added costs to farming operations which have no viable alternative. We do however have concerns about plans to end badger culling. Badger culling is part of the TB control strategy and it is also important to ensure a healthier badger population is left in place. There are still a lot of questions about efficacy of badger vaccination.”

“We hope that the programme will also herald a changed emphasis to supporting the farmer rather than the agri-food industry. It is important that there is a commitment included to implementing what has been agreed at the Beef Taskforce.”

“Overall, ICSA is giving a cautious welcome to much of what is included. There are still some substantial misgivings about how targets for emissions reductions can be achieved. ICSA will continue to argue very strongly that Irish agriculture, although not the main driver of climate change, is part of the solution. As such, the focus must be on supporting sustainable food production in countries which are most efficient in delivering the right balance between emissions, sequestration and efficient production of quality food.”

Mr Phelan warned however, that the proposals for a successor to the FoodWise strategic plan were still too much focused on agri-food exports and not enough on farm income and fair prices for farmers.

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