Positive future for sheep sector

15th February, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) President, Gabriel Gilmartin, said that while challenging times were ahead that overall the Irish sheep sector has a very bright future.

Speaking the ICSA National Sheep Conference for 2012, Mr. Gilmartin said that a resurgence in the sector since the slowdown in the building trade has meant the sheep industry can no longer be classified as being a sunset industry. However, Mr. Gilmartin also said that one strong year does not mean that the sector is safe.

Mr. Gilmartin said: “The future is bright for the Irish sheep sector. 2011 was a very strong year with prices never too far from €5/kg but one good year does not mean that all is secure for sheep farmers. We need a number of positive years to help stem the outflow as well as offsetting the rapid escalation of input costs.

“Even though there are signs of a lot more confidence among sheep farmers, we need to ensure that the higher level of prices is not just maintained but improved over the next three or four years before we get carried away.

“When I started out in 1982, land was costing about €40/acre to rent and lambs were selling at €80.  In 2011, lambs averaged a €10 0but rental ground is going to cost €150 in 2012.

“Therefore, we need to drive on with lamb price.  What should it be?  Well, there is a lot of cost for the early producers who need exceptional prices to cover the huge costs and work associated with sponging, and lambing when many people are still digesting the Christmas excesses.  These farmers need to be beating €7/kg by a comfortable stretch if it’s to be worthwhile.

Mr Gilmartin conceded that there may be resistance to higher prices, especially in the UK where consumption fell 20% in 2011.  However, he emphasised that higher costs meant that farmers need the higher prices

Mr. Gilmatin concluded by saying that the downturn in the building industry has welcomed a number of people back to the sector: “We have seen a great deal of people return to sheep farming since the collapse of the building sector and this has been a major positive. The national flock has grown and hopefully it can continue to grow in a positive fashion. The sheep sector was at its strongest in the early ‘90s but receded with the growth of the building sector. At that time it was considered to be a sunset industry but we have witnessed a resurgence in the past few years.”

ICSA welcomes beef discussion group support

14th February, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has welcomed the announcement of the Beef Discussion Group scheme payment by Minister Coveney last night (Monday 13th February) as an innovative scheme, which will pay a huge dividend to the state through increased technical efficiency and greater output on cattle farms.  Mr Gilmartin said that he had been a strong advocate of payment for participation in discussion groups by the drystock sector and he had made it a key issue at the Food Harvest 2020 discussions.

He said that the menu approach was the correct one where farmers would have a choice of measures to implement.  “Given that the funding available is €5 million, which will allow for €1,000 payments to 5,000 farmers we have to ensure that we get the money to the most committed and progressive farmers.  When resources are scarce, it makes sense to target those who want to help themselves and who are trying to make progress.  On the other hand, the range of options means that there is no real barrier to participation by committed farmers who are intent on improving their efficiency levels and learning from the discussion group process.”

“This is a real value for money scheme for the state and it is critical that funding is made available for the next three years.  In the longer term, it is obvious that a scheme like this will be very well placed to qualify for Pillar 2 funding under the CAP reform proposals.”

Mr Gilmartin welcomed the fact that the scheme would be open to private agricultural advisors as well as Teagasc consultants.

He was particularly pleased that there is considerable emphasis on better breeding and better grassland, two areas where there is major scope for improvement on suckler farms.

Cows strengthen as remainder of trade steadies

14th February, 2012

Livestock Price Coordinator for the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), John Cleary, has said that despite a strengthening in the cow trade, the overall factory beef trade is on a par with last week.

For a good mix of steers, the base price being quoted is €3.90 – 4.00/kg, there has been an increase of 10c on the upper quotes for steers from last week but these are difficult to achieve. Factories are quoting €4- €4.10/kg for heifers, no change from last week. For a mix of U and R grade bulls, the base price is also €3.95 – €4.05/kg, a slight fall from this time last week. Cows have had a strong week and the quotes from the factories reflect this. Quotes for cows range from  €3.30/kg for average cows right up to €3.70/kg for in spec animals.

Commenting on this week’s trade, Mr. Cleary said: “It’s steady as she goes this week for the beef trade. Steers are up a small bit, bulls are down and there’s no change with the heifers so it really does average itself out. The one area bucking the trend is that of the cow trade. There has been a move of 5-15c for cows which is fantastic news. The old adage is that the cow trade is the barometer for the rest of the beef trade so there are positive signs after a few weeks of uncertainty and price falls. Industry experts have alluded to me this week that the cow trade is set to continue very strongly for the best part of the year so there are reasons to be cheerful.”

ICSA concerned about Government cutbacks on co-funding rural development

6th February, 2012

ICSA rural development chairman John Barron has expressed concern over government plans to avail of an EU concession to draw down rural development funds at an 85% co-funding rate rather than 50 or 55% as at present.  Mr Barron pointed out that this would lead to less funds being spent on rural development programmes such as LEADER and would facilitate the Government in winding down programmes such as the early retirement scheme, as well as dashing any prospects of reopening schemes such as the Young Farmer Installation aid.

“The key to understanding this is that the actual ceiling of EU money is fixed.  Therefore, when you switch to 85% EU funding/ 15% exchequer funding, rather than a 50:50 mix, the outcome is a substantially lower amount of co-funding from the Government, not a higher amount of EU funding.”

“My bigger concern is that the government is signalling its longer term intention to reduce all rural development funds.  While this decision only applies to Axes 1, 3 and 4, the message seems clear- Ireland is winding down exchequer funding for all future rural development schemes.  Although Axis 2, covering agri-environment schemes is unaffected for now, CAP negotiations for the post 2013 period are underway and we are trying to make the case for more rural development funding from the EU.”

“However, we have absolutely no credibility looking for increased or even similar levels of EU rural development funds if we are also saying that we can make do with less.  Even if we were to successfully negotiate higher RD funds from Europe, the risk is that the Government will want to retain the 85% rate of EU co-funding leading to a lower overall fund available for RD schemes.”  

Meanwhile, the effect of the decision on the current programme covering 2007-2013, is a €200 million reduction in spend in the rural economy. This cut is achieved by a reduction in the total amount of funding available under Axis 1 by some €87 million and by €113 million under Axes 3 and 4.  This is a huge cutback to rural communities all over the country and will have a substantial knock-on effect on the economy.

“Again, the Government has shown that it is heavy on austerity but light on job creation and economic stimulus,” concluded Mr Barron.

ICSA seminar to focus on sheep prospects

6th February, 2012

The prospects for the sheep trade is the focus of a major seminar next week which will feature speakers from Bord Bia, the UK based National Sheep Association, Kepak and the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland.  The seminar, hosted by ICSA, will take place on Monday, February 13th in the Lord Bagenal Hotel, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow.  Proceedings begin with lunch at 1pm, and the event will conclude at 5pm.

ICSA sheep chairman Paul Brady said that the upturn in sheep in 2011 had led to a renewed interest in the sector and it was vital for farmers to have a better understanding of where the business was going.  “The seminar will hopefully give solid answers to farmers who want to know what the prospects are in the short to medium term.

The line-up of speakers is:
• Declan Fennell, Sheep Specialist, Bord Bia
• Bob Cahill, Kepak, Hacketstown,
• Phil Stocker, Chief Executive, UK National Sheep Association
• Laz Murphy, Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland
• Eric Driver, Assistant Manager, Tullow Livestock Mart
• Catherine O’Leary, Veterinary Advisor, MSD Animal Health
• Gabriel Gilmartin, President, ICSA

The fee for the seminar is €15 (booked in advance, €20 on the day), which covers lunch, teas/ coffee and refreshments,  & conference papers.  Advance booking is essential, and ICSA is urging farmers to book as soon as possible as numbers are limited.

ICSA wishes to acknowledge the support and help of Kepak, MSD Animal Health Ireland, Nutribio/ CAHL, BFL Nutrition, Volac Ireland O’Donovan Engineering and Tullow Livestock Mart.

Factories continue to dictate pace as prices slip further

6th February 2012

Livestock Price Coordinator for the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), John Cleary, has said that factories are dictating prices being paid to farmers for stock by limiting the number of slaughter days and by making farmers book in cattle in advance. Mr. Cleary said that the top end quotes here are particularly difficult to achieve unless a farmer is selling a significant amount of stock.

For a good mix of steers, the base price being quoted is €3.90 – 4.00/kg, a further decrease of 5c from last week. Factories are quoting €4- €4.10/kg for heifers, a 5-10c tumble from last week. For a mix of U and R grade bulls, the base price is also €4.00 – €4.05/kg, a fall of 10c. Base price quotes for cows stand at €3.20-€3.65/kg, no change from week.

Commenting on this week’s trade, Mr. Cleary said: “Factories have once again taken the initiative to pull prices this week with steers, heifers and bulls all suffering falls this week. Cows are the only ones to have performed solidly this week. We have now seen week on week falls which is hard to bear for farmers. Factories have always began ‘appointment only’ killings now. It’s also hard to get the top end quotes and are only available for larger farmers. Farmers must also be aware that while nothing is certain, selling in a falling market only helps the factories and prices are expected to move upwards the less stock factories receive,” Mr. Cleary said.

ICSA calls for better factory prices for winter finishers

2nd February 2012

Newly elected Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) beef chairman, Edmond Phelan, has called on factories to halt the recent slide in prices as it is having an alienating effect on winter finishers.

Edmond Phelan: “Beef needs to be rising weekly during the winter finishing period but what we have seen is the exact opposite since the turn of the year. We have seen a week on week decrease with factories pulling prices. Prices have fallen back 20 – 30c for steers since January and this is simply unacceptable. This equates a loss of €50/€60 per head for the farmer. Factories are desperately looking for stock yet prices are being pulled. This smacks of somebody playing shenanigans. Beef finishers rely on a rising market during the winter period and the current trend cannot continue.

“In order to have a profitable farm, prices need to be rising at a penny a pound every week throughout the winter. Beef finishers are now looking at the possibility of holding off, putting the stock on grass until later in the summer until the prices return. If factories want to hold out on finishers, then two can play at that game,” Mr. Phelan said.

Monaghan farmers call for vigilance over tractor thefts

31st January, 2012

The Monaghan branch of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has today (31st January) urged vigilance amongst the farming community following the recent reports of tractor thefts in the county.

Jim Harrsion, member of the ICSA national executive, vice chairman of the ICSA suckler committee and farmer from Castleblayney, has said that vigilance as well as prevention is the only way to stop this growing trend. “It has gotten to a very worrying stage. Farmers are being directly targeted by criminals and the situation is particularly prevalent in Monaghan. In the last week alone, two tractors on the Monaghan – Armagh border were stolen from the same farm. There are also a number of notices in Ballybay mart by farmers offering rewards on information regarding their stolen tractor.

“Tractors are necessary pieces of equipment for every farmer in the country. Tractors are very expensive with a very high resale possibility meaning that they can be stolen and sold for huge profits within hours. Therefore farmers should be doing all within their power to protect their assets. Exploring the possibility of installing immobilisers in newer tractors or trackers in all machines can effectively negate the threat of criminals stealing them. Farmers and the wider rural community need to be especially vigilant in these times as we targets for thieves and we must be prepared to outsmart the criminals,” Mr. Harrison said.

ICSA not happy with disadvantaged area proposals

23rd January, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) national president Gabriel Gilmartin is concerned that the efforts to target disadvantaged area cuts at certain categories of farmers and landowners will create anomalies.  He emphasised that anomalies would be difficult to avoid and that the real problem is that the Government should not see the disadvantaged area scheme as a sitting duck for cutbacks.  “Successive cuts to the scheme by successive governments betray a failure to understand the importance of the scheme,” he claimed.

Regarding the details of the proposals, Mr Gilmartin said that the proposal to reduce DA payments to farmers with mixed holdings of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged land would open a minefield of unfair cases.

“For example, this penalises the farmer who own farm is 100% disadvantaged but who has taken the initiative of renting non-disadvantaged land, usually in an effort to expand his herd or flock or ensure adequate winter fodder.”

He said that the 80 km rule was also contentious but he supported the concession that means that it won’t apply in the case of farmers whose main holding is disadvantaged.  “This depends on what is meant by main holding.  My view is that the main holding should be determined by where the herd number is established rather than by the size of the holding.”

However, Mr Gilmartin added that the objective of avoiding further cuts to the rate or to the maximum area for active farmers was essential and one that ICSA supported.

Quality over breed, advises ICSA

20th January, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) suckler chairman, Dermot Kelleher, has advised suckler farmers to prioritise the quality of the bull over the breed itself when choosing the best bull or AI for their cows.

Mr. Kelleher said “Farmers should not be overly concerned about the breed they’re putting on their cow, be it Limousin, Charolais, etc. Instead they should be more concerned about getting the top 10% – 15% from that breed to ensure excellent conformation as well having the best potential for weight gain. It’s important to look at the ratings for the AI or bull and then make a decision which would be best for the overall herd.

“It’s not beneficial to become overly preoccupied with choosing one breed over another, the farmer needs to do what’s best for the potential of the herd. Be it the bull or AI, you have to ensure that it’s the right one for the cow and the right one for breeding. Having one bad cow means one bad calf but a bad bull or series of bad AI choices will mean bad calves throughout the herd,” Mr. Kelleher concluded.