Farmers need to assess borrowing capacity before applying for low-cost loans – ICSA

AGRILAND – 5 JANUARY 2017

Sherlock has called on farmers to be cautious if availing of the new 2.95% loan scheme.

The scheme which will be operated by the banks utilises a combination of funding from the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and an interest subsidy funded jointly by the EU and the exchequer.

It has been widely anticipated that the scheme will open for farmer applications in early this year.

The Rural Development Chairman said the ICSA welcomes low interest rates in general, but it is vitally important that farmers carefully assess their borrowing capacity.

“The new scheme is being promoted partly on the basis that the loans are unsecured.

“While this may lead to a faster and more efficient approval process, farmers should not assume that they will be immune from making full repayments.

“Even in the case of an unsecured loan, banks are fully entitled to seek a court judgement which could be registered against the farmer’s assets.

The message is that these loans should only be used by farmers who have carefully weighed up their repayment capacity and have a plan to reduce other forms of expensive credit.

“Farmers should also question whether further investment is warranted in the enterprise if it’s not profitable.

“There is also the issue that these loans will be unavailable to the people who need them most; those farmers that are tied in to long term loans at high interest rates which impact greatly on cash flow.

“Unfortunately, these loans cannot be refinanced under the new scheme and many farmers will continue to struggle with debilitating farm debt,” he said.

Why Ireland’s farmers want the Irish embassy in Iran to reopen

The ICSA has called on the government to reopen the Irish embassy in Iran

JOURNAL.IE – 1 JANUARY 2017

View of Tehran from the Azadi Tower - Iran

View of Tehran from the Azadi Tower – Iran
Image: Shutterstock/Leonid Andronov

FARMERS HAVE CALLED on the government to reopen the Irish embassy in Iran, which was closed in 2011.

Patrick Kent, the President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA), said there would be “huge opportunities for exports of beef and sheep meat to Iran” if full diplomatic relations were to resume between the two countries.

Last week the ICSA met with Iranian ambassador to Ireland, Javad Kachoueian, to discuss potential cattle and sheep meat trade between the two countries.

Kent said,“I would urge the Irish Government to look at diplomatic missions to Iran and I would also call on the banking sector to provide facilitates for financial transactions between Irish and Iranian interests.”

The Irish embassy in Tehran, Iran was closed in 2011 as part of cost reduction measures brought on by the financial crisis. A number of  new consulates have been opened since then including embassies in Nairobi, Jakarta and Bangkok while the Irish embassy in the Vatican has also been reopened.

Irish Embassy

In response to the call from the farmers, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said there was no immediate plans to reopen the embassy, but there is an ‘ongoing review’ of Ireland’s embassies and consulates.

The configuration and scale of the State’s diplomatic and consular network is kept under ongoing review by the government.  A range of factors are taken into account in considering our diplomatic representation overseas, including our national political, economic and trade priorities, as well as the availability of resources.

The government is of course conscious of the political, economic, trade factors and availability of resources that might warrant the opening of a resident diplomatic mission in Iran – as in a number of other countries.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie ICSA General Secretary Eddie Punch said in 2017 there will be 200,000 extra cattle for slaughter compared to 2015 and they will be a need to expand into other markets, as there no real added demand for Irish beef in Europe.

“Iran is in a deficit in terms of red meat, they consume one million tonnes of red meat a year. We can’t afford not to do this.” said Punch.

Punch also cited the recent lifting of sanctions on Iran by the US government as reason to start doing business with Iran.

Banking 

The ICSA said that there are two main obstacles to trading beef and sheep meat with Iran: The lack of diplomatic outreach from the Irish government to the Iranian government and the lack of banking facilities between the two states.

“No Irish bank will facilitate transactions with Iranian banks” said Punch, which makes any dealing between the two countries very difficult if not impossible.

Look out for rural dwellers over Festive Season – ICSA

CLARE CHAMPION – 19 DECEMBER 2016

Look out for rural dwellers

The ICSA has appealed to all rural dwellers to look out for one another over the Christmas period.

The organisation’s rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock said, “We all lead busy lives and none more so than farmers but it’s important to keep our older and more vulnerable citizens in mind over the coming weeks. This will be all the more pertinent given the bad weather forecast for the weekend which may add to the difficulties for many.”

Continuing Mr Sherlock said, “A quick call may be all that is needed to make a big difference in the life of someone who feels lonely or isolated at this time of year. It is important that these people are reassured and reminded they are still a much valued and respected part of their communities. Farmers are renowned for lending a helping hand to others when in need so let’s all work to keep that tradition alive.”

‘Teagasc needs to go back to the drawing board on low-intensity farming advice’ – ICSA

AGRILAND – 14 DECEMBER 2016

Speaking at yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Kent said that farmers need to make individual choices because some farms have different stocking levels and densities.

“Certainly the advice for farmers would be different for each one depending on how highly or lowly stocked they are or how young the farmer is,” he said.

“Individual decisions for one may not suit another.

“But I think Teagasc needs to give some direction in this as they don’t have any low-stocking rate controls to compare this highly intensive, high input farming with,” he said.

Kent added that some low-intensity farmers, particularly older farmers, are making money because they are not spending a lot of money.

Their inputs are low, their stocking density is lower and their work rate is lower.

The Wexford-based farmer suggested that such farmers could be used as a model to get young farmers into farming.

“They may have time as a result of low-intensity farming to get a part-time job or get a way from the farm or maybe have a full time job away from the farm,” he said.

There is different advice for different farmers and I think Teagasc needs to go back to the drawing board.

Kent also said that some of the advice Teagasc has been providing is not applicable to all farms, particularly on the area of ramping up stocking rates and the move to intensive dairying.

For some individual farmers it may the perfect advice, he said, but for others, depending on how much resources they have available, it may not be.

The ICSA President also told the committee that he thinks Bord Bia has lost direction and rather then policing farmers on Quality Assurance and Origin Green, it should focus more on marketing farm produce.

“Bord Bia’s personnel need to be redirected into marketing and we need to market our product as the best available.

“As farmers we are certainly willing to provide food and we would like to see a little bit of benefit from it,” he said.

Kent also said that Food Wise 2025, a model which he sees as being unsustainable, has to be revisited as some of the projections are very ambitious.

I think that it probably needs to be convened again to have a look at where the direction is from here,” he said.

On the quality of food produced in Ireland, he added that Ireland has unique selling points, but the purity of Irish food has not been pushed enough.

“GM-free is a thing we have dropped the ball on. There isn’t one GM crop we can grow profitability in this country as it is, with science they are all designed for hotter climates.

“But we can sell our food as a GM-free food at a higher price and as a healthier food,” he said.

Sheep factories criticised by ICSA for using ‘scare tactics’ to drive prices down

AGRILAND – 15 DECEMBER 2016

“This time last year farmers were achieving 510c/kg with prices rising, now we are seeing quotes as low as €4.55/kg but in reality deals are being done at €4.75/kg,” he said.

Brooks also said that the fall in Sterling is still being used to manipulate the market in order for the factories to profiteer.

“The currency issue has now stabilised, but this is being ignored by factories who are continuing to use Sterling as well as gloomy prospects for the sheep trade in 2017 as an excuse not to adequately compensate farmers for their produce.

This is despite no discernible increase in numbers this year as opposed to last year.”

The ICSA representative continued to say that with New Zealand lamb extremely scarce in UK supermarkets, there is a real opportunity for Irish lamb to have free run across Europe.

“The mart trade for slaughter fit lambs is also strong, so bleak soundings from the factories are completely uncalled for.

“There is no reason for sheep farmers not to be achieving a price equivalent to last year right up to the end of the hogget season,” he said.

Earlier this week, a number of sheepmeat processors opted to drop the quoted price of spring lamb, with some moving to a base price of between 450-455c/kg, excluding the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Bonuses.

Cumulative Sheep Supplies

Meanwhile, figures from the Department of Agriculture show that an extra 47,658 sheep (+2%) have been slaughtered in Ireland so far to the year ending December 11.

This brings the total kill for the year to 2.52m head.

So far this year, an extra 42,456 hoggets have been slaughtered, while ewe and ram throughput has increased by 26% or 76,934 head on the year before.

However the number of lamb slaughterings has actually declined, with supplies back by 71,330 head or 5% on 2015 levels.

Leaked EU Commission Plan will deny Tillage Farmers’ important income – ICSA

 The leaked proposals undermine previous bio-fuel plans ‘without any scientific basis’:

The ICSA President Patrick Kent is speaking out after it was revealed that new EU Commission plans will slash the target for the crop bio-fuel component of EU transport from 7% to just 3.4% by 2030.

The leaked proposals will undermine previous bio-fuel policies. President Kent says that the leak, which came from a new renewable energy plan by the Commission, ‘flies in the face of logic’.

The Commission, which was supportive of bio-fuels, has now decided to reverse its position without any scientific basis for doing so, says the ICSA.

“What the Commission is proposing to do will deny tillage farmers access to an important income stream and also puts at risk tens of thousands of jobs across Europe. It will end investor interest in EU bio-fuels, with a direct knock on effect on the efforts to revive the Irish sugar industry – proposals which have received the direct support of all of the major political parties in Dáil Éireann and it will make it harder to achieve EU targets to cut GHG emissions from road traffic,” explained Kent.

He added that the ‘most ludicrous’ aspect of the Commission’s planned direction is ‘that the problem which it is trying to solve – the upsurge in palm oil imports into Europe – has nothing to do with European farmers’.

He says that the issue and could be resolved if the Commission and the Member States applied the sustainability criteria set out in EU law and adopted a more differentiated approach to bio-fuels than the simplistic approach now being advanced.

“ICSA wants to see crop based bio-fuels supported because they offer a real option for hard-pressed farmers to make money rather than being totally reliant on food and feed which are in surplus in Europe.

“We see desperate attempts to find new markets for food everywhere from China to Africa which reflects the fact that EU farmers are producing more food and feed than we can consume in Europe. Yet we have spent years listening to lectures about how EU farmers should not be supported to produce excess food which would be then ‘dumped’ in Africa to the detriment of African agriculture,” added Kent.

“Sustainable crop based bio-fuels provide a win-win in Europe. Contrary to the ludicrous notion that forests will be levelled and bogs drained, crop based bio-fuels can fill multiple roles from each hectare grown. A hectare used for bio-fuels still produces top class animal feed as a by-product of the fuel production process.

“As an additional bonus, the by-product feed is higher in protein and thus reduces the need for soya imports from South America. In truth, it is the over-dependence on soya imports that is the real cause of forest destruction albeit in South America. There is no credible evidence of struggling farmers in Europe making totally uneconomic investments to reclaim forest or bog to produce animal feeds for livestock systems that are barely viable in 2016.”

The ICSA president believes that we should stop blindly following the EU Commission, who he says tends to ‘laud the multifunctional character of EU agriculture’.

“In part, this was because both WTO rules and NGO pressures were hostile to policies which subsidised extra food exports from Europe. It is now hypocritical to reverse direction and say that much needed renewable fuels are no longer acceptable and that we should go back to expanding food exports to markets in the least developed countries.”

ICSA calls on all of the parties in Dáil Éireann to live up to the undertakings that they have given on the issue of sugar/bio-fuel production and to reject these proposals at national and EU level.

Stress and late diagnosis ­ the silent killers for farmers

FARMING INDEPENDENT – 27 NOVEMBER 2016

The statistical evidence is stark – farmers have a higher death risk than any other occupation in Ireland, with the main causes being heart disease, cancers and farm accident.

This was the stark message from senior Teagasc adviser Tom Gleeson at last week’s ICSA’s meeting on rural isolation and coping, called to highlight the current state of farmer health throughout the country.

“While farmers continue to work in the fresh air and spend their days being active, they are less likely to do regular cardio exercise, watch their diet, wear sunscreen and – most importantly – visit their doctors,” he told a packed attendance at last week’s meeting in Kilrush Golf Club, Co Clare, adding: “The main reason for poorer health among farmers is late diagnosis.”

Speakers at the meeting included Seamus Sherlock of the ICSA, Garda Supt Martin McGonnell, and Peter Gohery, a farm accident victim and founder of Embrace, the rural safety awareness and support organisation.

Teagasc adviser Tom Gleeson

Teagasc adviser Tom Gleeson

“I have been working in west Clare for some 10 years now and I walk onto farms which are at the mercy of the weather, large livestock numbers, heavy machinery, deep tanks and high power lines, and it is left to farmers to create a safe environment for both children and elderly family members,” said Mr Gleeson.

“Added to these on-farm dangers are the time pressures, bureaucracy, tightening finance availability and decreasing social supports for the farmer, and these factors are adding to the stress within farming communities.”

All these issues, when endured over a long period of time, can lead to mental fatigue and eventually depression, and if they are not addressed they increase the chances of farm accidents occurring, he said.

Social supports were critical in tackling the problems, which are emerging from rural isolation, and one of the best ways to address them was “to talk”.

"If you talk, solutions will emerge. Don't let the stress grow into something more serious or wait for something serious to happen, like a farm accident," he emphasised.
On the enterprise side of the stress question, he urged farmers to grow their businesses efficiently through prudent investment and low overheads. The alternative would only create a huge amount of stress.”Bills need to be paid, tax needs to be paid, loans need to be paid, but the family needs should be taken care of as a first priority.”

Garda Supt Martin McGonnell and Garda Sergeant Edel Burke, who have been organising these community-based rural meetings since their inception last year, told their audience that farmers should not be afraid to admit that they were affected by isolation, coping problems or stress brought on by the loneliness of their job or by financial pressures.

Step

They emphasised that the first step required in facing up to these problems was to admit that there was a problem in the first place.

Sergeant Burke said that there was always help at hand from neighbours, friends, community activists and the Gardai themselves.

“Farmers are afraid to admit they have a problem and often the stress they are under is the cause of the farm accidents which can kill or main, and most of these accidents are caused by simple on-farm mistakes with farm machinery or livestock,” she said.

“These accidents may be avoided if the farmer got in touch with a trusted neighbour or friend.

“They should contact the Gardai if they can’t find help, because the Gardai will find the help that is required.”

Last week’s meeting was the fifth in a series organised by the Gardai and ICSA in Co Clare since the initiative on rural isolation, coping and farm accident prevention began in the autumn of last year.

The next meeting is scheduled for Kilfenora in three weeks’ time.

‘Nothing tops the taste of grass-fed beef’

FarmIreland – 26 NOVEMBER 2016

Rib-eye steak.

During my visit to this year’s Ploughing Championships I happened to run-into Paddy Kent, an old friend from my ICSA days. After catching up on farming issues Paddy took me aside and said that he had a book which I might find interesting.

The book, Grass-Fed Nation – Getting Back the Food We Deserve, was written by Graham Harvey, former agricultural advisor to the BBC. Handing me a copy, Paddy said that he thought that I would enjoy reading it; and how right he was.

Harvey who has an Honours Science Degree in Agriculture from Bangor University has spent much of his life writing about UK agriculture and the environment. In this book he expresses his passionate concern for the farming environment and sustainable food production.

He is fiercely critical of aspects of modern ‘industrialised farming’ because of the environmental damage which he claims it causes and the poor quality and taste of the food it produces.

Harvey argues passionately that old style food production methods using natural grasslands are both healthier for the consumer and promotes increased biodiversity which is now accepted as being a corner stone of future sustainable agriculture.

He also highlights the importance of natural grassland and the huge amount of organic matter it helps develop in the soil which then acts as a massive carbon sink. Harvey expresses his deep concern at the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere by the current shift to monoculture type wheat production which has now become such an integral part of modern farming.

In a way it’s a very disturbing book because it raises many worrying questions about issues which we in Ireland appear to be turning a blind eye.

As I rely exclusively on grass grown on old natural pastureland to fatten my cattle, Harvey’s emphasis on the environmental good, health benefits and eating quality of beef and lamb produced on this type of natural environment really aroused my interest.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating so as I had just sent a load of cattle to the meat plant the previous day, I rang the procurement manager and asked if it would be possible to buy a striploin from a Friesian bullock which had graded O= 3=. He said that it would be no problem and asked me to call him back in about three weeks to allow the meat to mature properly.Three weeks later my family, some of whom have a background in the catering sector, and I sat down to a meal of home-produced striploin steak, mushrooms and potatoes. The verdict was unanimous; it was the most flavoursome and tender steak any of us had ever eaten.
So why was this Friesian bullock, which by the way was nearly 32 months old, so tender and flavoursome? Are Graham Harvey and many others, including the late Justin Keating, correct when they speak of the superb quality and flavour of beef produced on natural grassland alone, with its huge array of herbs and plants?

We have eaten more of these steaks on a number of occasions since and we still find that in spite of the fact that they were stored in the freezer, there is still a huge difference in eating quality and taste.

On the Farm

Meanwhile, with the end of year fast approaching, it’s time to look back on the highs and lows of 2016.

Even though the spring was late in arriving this year, my concerns about having adequate silage turned out to be unfounded. I had also believed that a late spring would be a portent for a disappointing year with cattle never really making up for the bad start but surprise, surprise I was wrong again.

I don’t think I have ever seen such good weight gains from cattle, even the last load which usually disappoints turned out to be one of my heaviest load this year. Unfortunately the extra carcase weights were more than wiped out by an average drop of 24 cents per kilo on last years prices.

Once again grades were disappointing but I suppose at this stage I should be getting used to that. I do however note with great interest, media reports of an X-ray type grading machines being introduced in Australian abattoirs.

These new grading machines are reported to give a far better measurement of saleable meat yields which is really what it’s all about. I look forward to a similar grading system being introduced here soon; we badly need something to restore some confidence in the system.

I wish I could claim some credit for my cattle’s record weight gains this year, but all credit must go to Mother Nature who really turned on the style when it came to providing perfect conditions for summer and autumn grass growth. Of course there are always problems in farming and this year’s problems can be summed in one word: Brexit.

So where am I now? With the current rise in mart prices I am very lucky to have all my store cattle bought in and I put the first two pens of them into the shed last Friday. I am hoping that the remainder will survive outside for another few weeks.

The new slats mean that I have one less thing to worry about, although it did mean having to do a good deal of extra work replacing gates, barriers as well as relocating some water tanks.

My most immediate task now to spend some time splitting some large ash logs so as to have a good supply of timber for Christmas. Luckily I have access to a tractor mounted log splitter – I don’t fancy spending days splitting logs with an axe any more.

John Heney farms in Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

ICSA Meets With Private Equity Firms To Outline Concerns Of Farmers

MIDLANDS 103 NEWSROOM – 23 NOVEMBER 2016

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association is encouraging farmers not to bury their heads in the sand over debts.

It’s after the Portlaoise-based organisation met with private equity firms, Cerberus and Capita Asset Services, to discuss the sell-off of farm loans.

The group says any farmer in financial jeopardy should contact them and get a grip of the situation quickly.

ICSA President Patrick Kent is encouraging those with concerns to come forward.

ICSA is ‘only Farm Organisation 100% against Trade Deal Sell-Outs’

THAT’S FARMING – 18 NOVEMBER 2016

trade-deals
Trade deals that are currently being negotiated are ‘disastrous for beef’ and ‘damaging to the sheep sector’:

The ICSA is claiming that it’s the only farm organisation in Ireland that is truly opposed to trade deals that will irreparably damage Irish agriculture. In response to the ‘Cumulative Impact of Future Trade Deals on EU Agriculture’ study undertaken in recent weeks, ICSA President Patrick Kent says that the results published ‘vindicate’ the organisation’s position on trade deals.

Kent says that the deals currently under investigation are ‘almost uniformly disastrous for beef, and also damaging to the sheep sector’:

“Politicians who have been cheerleaders for trade deals really need to read this report and then reflect on what they are supporting. We have just seen the consequences in the USA for politicians who have been dismissive of the people impacted most by globalisation. A similar pattern will emerge here if the EU Commission, supported by EU politicians, allows our beef farmers to become the EU equivalent of the automotive workers in Detroit.”

“ICSA has consistently stood against the disastrous trade deals being negotiated by the EU Commission because we have always said that the impact offers absolutely no positives whatsoever for our livestock sector. ICSA is the only farm organisation to be 100% against trade deal sell outs because our members carry all the costs.”

Kent clarifies that the study ‘forecasts an increase in beef imports of 146,000 tonnes under the most conservative scenario and up to 356,000 tonnes under the more ambitious scenario’. He adds that the modelling estimates a reduction in beef price in the range 8-16%. This is alarming in itself, according to Kent, but as an EU average, it masks the ‘potentially devastating and uneven impact on Ireland as a country particularly exposed due to its high beef exports’.

“The report does suggest, however, that most of the production decrease will be even stronger in specialised beef production. In other words, countries such as Ireland where the suckler herd accounts for almost half will take the brunt of the adjustment and therefore the impact will be much greater than the EU average price fall of up to 16%.”

“Interestingly, the study also suggests that any gains for the dairy sector will actually further exacerbate the impact on the beef sector. According to the report, ‘the positive price and production effect of the trade scenario on the EU dairy market indirectly leads to a higher availability of meat from the dairy herd at lower prices’. This poses a very real question about what will be done with all the extra dairy calves which will be virtually worthless in a scenario where beef price has fallen through the floor.”

President Kent also adds that the report reflects a terrible impact on the sheep industry: “Regarding sheepmeat, there is also a negative impact from a possible 10% increase in Australian imports with prices down 2-3%. New Zealand is not expected to impact from tariff reductions given that it already has a large zero tariff export quota to Europe.”

“However, there is just no way of knowing how severe the impact will be until we know what happens with Brexit. In general, the likely scenarios under Brexit are even worse if the UK government follows through on its determination to do free trade deals with the rest of the world.

“It needs to be noted that a strong if relatively unnoticed element of the Brexit campaign was a promise that the UK outside the EU could deliver significant benefits to consumers via free trade. You can dress this up any way you want but what it means is a ramping up of the traditional British cheap food policy,” adds Kent.

Overall, the report paints a picture of farmers on a global scale running faster to stand still, trying to outdo each other with ever lower prices while multinational retailers and processors grab more and more of the benefit, says the ICSA. The organisation also believes that this report must surely serve as a wake-up call to the pro free-trade politicians.

“Finally, all decision makers need to reflect on the fact that a 1% gain to GDP from the turnover of multinationals is not remotely comparable to a 1% loss in GDP from losses in the agriculture sector. Better outcomes for multinationals deliver little by way of trickle down to ordinary people, and as we have seen, little in terms of tax receipts.”

ICSA is calling on all politicians to read this report in full and to make up their minds whether they care about the ordinary people in every part of Ireland or whether they prefer to remain smitten by corporate elites. In practice, ICSA is again calling for a complete suspension of talks on trade deals until there is a better understanding of the Brexit impact. With the current position of beef and sheep farming in Europe further imports of beef and lamb cannot be tolerated. In the long run, ICSA believes that beef and sheepmeat are very sensitive products and this must be reflected in future strategy on trade.