New thinking needed on agricultural emissions policies

7th June, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association agrees with the finding of the Economic and Social Research Institute that a new deal is needed on agricultural emissions targets for Europe.  

The ESRI has published its Environment Review 2012, which finds that if we are to meet the targets for increased agricultural production under Food Harvest 2020, Ireland will struggle to meet its emissions obligations.  

ICSA President Gabriel Gilmartin said, “on the one hand, Food Harvest 2020 says we must strive to dramatically increase agricultural production – but on the other, we are expected to reduce the emissions from farming activities.  The two targets are plainly incompatible.”

As a whole, Ireland is supposed to reduce its emissions by 20% by the year 2020.  ICSA is firmly of the opinion that this is much too onerous due to the fact that agriculture as an industry is proportionately far more significant here than in other EU countries.  

Mr. Gilmartin said, “I am very much in agreement with the ESRI’s suggestion that a new mechanism for managing agricultural emissions in Ireland is needed.  A blunt focus on emissions reduction in Ireland could lead to more production being moved overseas, and Ireland will lose the potential to expand output and create jobs.  If this was to happen, the environmental benefits may be less than if production was kept within the EU, where cross-compliance and other measures ensure higher environmental standards.  New thinking is needed on the climate and emissions policies imposed on the sector.”

Sheep prices recovering, but weight limits still need to be lifted

6th June, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association Sheep Committee Chairman, Paul Brady, says factories have finally got the message on sheep prices.  

It’s being reported that farmers can get up to 30c/kg more today than what was being offered last week.  

Mr. Brady said, “ICSA has been voicing serious concern about sheep prices recently.  The situation simply could not continue and I am relieved to hear that the factories have listened and have started paying more realistic prices for stock.”

“However, farmers are still only getting paid up to 20kg.  This is far too severe of a weight limit and is seriously undermining the prices being paid.  We have already warned that plans for the expansion of sheep production under Food Harvest 2020 are questionable, given the recent trends in the market.  The factories must play their part in supporting sheep farming in Ireland if it’s to be sustained into the future,” Mr. Brady concluded.

Sheep prices mean Food Harvest 2020 is over – ICSA

1st June, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association says the targets set out under the Food Harvest 2020 Report for the sheep sector in Ireland are all but dead.

ICSA President, Gabriel Gilmartin, says, “the Report wants us to expand the output value of the sheep sector by 20% in the coming years.  However, the recent downward spiral in prices for sheep and lambs makes all talk of increased production seem ridiculous at this point.”  

“Speaking at our AGM late last year, the Minister for Agriculture said he was confident that the targets could be achieved, given favourable market conditions.  Well, that is certainly not the case anymore.  Farmers are getting horrendously low prices for their stock as a result of a fairly minor increase in numbers.  I would go as far as to say that the drive for expansion proposed by Food Harvest 2020 is all over for sheep farmers.”

ICSA Sheep Committee Chairman, Paul Brady, agrees.  “We have seen a relatively small increase in sheep throughput this year and it’s having a disastrous effect on prices.  At the moment they are hovering around the €4.85 mark for spring lambs.  That’s 16% lower than the price this time last year.”  

“However, the total number of sheep coming through is only up by 5.8% on a year to date basis compared to last year. ”  

“The 5.8% increase equates to somewhere between 38,000 and 40,000 extra sheep.  If the market can’t handle this, you have to ask – what’s the point in talking about further expansion under Food Harvest 2020?  It’s also worth noting that UK throughput is actually down 3.4% on last year.”

Mr. Brady added, “on top of this, factories are only paying up to 20 kilos, which in effect means farmers are actually getting far less.  At the current prices, a farmer selling a 22kg lamb is in fact only getting around €4.40/kg.  This is far too severe of a cut-off point and is making the whole business of selling sheep unsustainable in the extreme.  Especially when you take into consideration the fact that the weaker euro – currently worth 80 pence sterling – makes us more competitive than we have been for some time compared with Northern Irish and British lamb.”

ICSA President, Gabriel Gilmartin concluded, “While the targets under Food Harvest are laudable, the trends in the sheep market in recent weeks really calls into question whether increased production is desirable from a farmer’s viewpoint.”

Yes result puts onus on Government to negotiate strongly at EU level

1st June, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has welcomed the outcome of the Referendum on the Fiscal Stability Treaty in favour of a Yes vote saying,  “it is the better outcome in terms of stability, but it also means that the Government has no hiding place when it comes to negotiating at EU level.”   

“The Yes result gives a mandate to the Government but it also puts the onus on them to get out and negotiate from a position of strength on all of the EU issues including the resolution of debt problems, a plan for growth and the need to sort out the EU budget for the 2014-2020 period.”

“The Government is now in a much stronger position when it comes to issues such as CAP reform as well.  It is clear that the farming community came through very strongly in favour of Yes and this must be kept in mind when the EU budget and CAP reform are being negotiated.”

ICSA urges extra caution regarding fire safety

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association Connaught/Ulster Vice President, John Flynn, is urging all members of the public to be extra vigilant when it comes to fire safety. 

Fires have broken out in a number of places in the area over the past number of days, in some cases causing extensive damage and costing huge amounts of money to deal with. 

John Flynn said, “I would urge everyone to be extremely careful when it comes to lighting any sort of fire in current conditions.  It’s frightening how quickly and easily a fire can spread and get out of control, putting people, animals and property at great risk.”

“The authorities have clearly stated that anyone who breaches fire regulations will be investigated and could face severe penalties – including loss of the single farm payment for farmers.” 

Mr. Flynn added, “it’s also vital that anyone who discovers a fire notifies the relevant authorities as quickly as possible so that damage is kept to a minimum.”

ICSA calls for reversal of cuts to factory beef weight limits

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association’s Beef Chairman, Edmond Phelan, says he is alarmed at proposals from some factories to reduce the upper weight limit on bulls. 

In some factories the upper weight limit is being cut down to 440kg, with talk of a possible limit of 380kg in certain cases. 

Edmond Phelan says that this is making it increasingly difficult for farmers to make a profit on their animals.  “At the end of the day, there is no point in selling a bull if there’s no profit in it – that makes the whole trade unviable.”

“Suckler farmers need to be getting in excess of €1,000 for their quality older weanlings, so the beef finishers have to be able to achieve a realistic end price from the factories.  If the factories insist on imposing these limits, there will be negative consequences for the trade as a whole.  More and more weanlings will be sent abroad as live exports, meaning less beef will be processed in Ireland.  This will have a direct effect on employment, on our ability to reach targets for beef production for Food Harvest 2020, and on efforts to open up new markets abroad for Irish beef.”

Mr. Phelan called on the factories to seriously reconsider these weight limits and explore more ways of securing premium prices for Irish beef on the market.

ICSA reacts angrily to student grant means test proposals

25th May 2012

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, has reacted angrily to proposed changes to the student grant means test.
Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn has announced that he expects a report in the summer, which will contain proposals for the inclusion of capital assets as well as income when calculating eligibility for the student grant.
Mr. Gilmartin says, “the ICSA is totally and utterly opposed to this.  If these changes are brought in, it would effectively discriminate against hard-working farming families wishing to send their children to third level education.”

“The National Farm Survey estimates for 2011, demonstrate that the average farm income reached an unprecedented high; however it is still relatively low compared with other sectors at €24,861.  However, there are significant variations in farm income.  In 2011, which was an exceptionally good year for farm income, only 15% of farmers exceeded €50,000, whereas 21% of farmers earned less than €5,000.”

“Even more significant is the fact that cattle and sheep farmers, who make up the bulk of farmers in Ireland, had an income of less than €31,000 on farms up to 250 acres in size.  Therefore, assets which appear to be substantial do not support significant income for the majority of farmers.  They are simply the tools of the trade.”

“A suckler farmer on a farm of 75-125 acres had, on average, income of some €14,000 in 2011.  Minister Quinn is proposing to eliminate third level education for these cattle and sheep farming families if this is allowed to go through.”
“What Minister Quinn is doing is simply choosing the easy target.  Farming is doing well at the moment but as we all know, this can change very quickly.  This ludicrous proposal clearly shows he is not in touch with the reality of the finances of most farming families in Ireland, where essential capital assets such as farm buildings and machinery do not equal money in the bank, and profit margins are tight.”
“The Minister has said that the best option for young people in the current economy is to remain in college for as long as possible – these measures fly in the face of that advice.”

Mr Gilmartin has called on all members of the Government parties to make clear where they stand on this issue and whether they are happy to prevent many farm families from aspiring to third level education for their children.

ICSA outlines key Cap Reform concerns at Oireachtas committee

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin today lead a delegation to a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture, to outline the ICSA position on the CAP reform proposals.

Mr Gilmartin outlined to the Committee members the key concerns of the ICSA arising from the CAP reform proposals put forward by EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacien Ciolos. 

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Gilmartin said: “there is a lot of concern among our members about the implications of what Commissioner Ciolos has proposed.   Cattle and sheep farmers are especially dependent on the Single Payment.  In 2010, direct payments represented up to 160% of Family Farm Income on drystock farms.”

“If change must come, then change must be gradual, phased in over a long period, and in a way that does not result in significant losses for farmers who have continued to farm in a productive manner since the last reform in 2003.”

Mr Gilmartin also says the fact that the EU budget has not been finalised is severely hampering progress in the CAP negotiations.  “As it stands, it seems to us that we are not on target for a deal to be done under the Irish presidency of the EU in the first half of next year.  In turn, it is increasingly possible that the reform will not be in place for 2014 as planned.  This raises questions about reference years.”

In conclusion, Mr Gilmartin called on member states to form alliances to ensure that Commissioner Ciolos’ proposals are significantly watered down, and said: “We need a strong campaign by the Taoiseach to get movement on the issue of the budget and we need to continue to work to reverse the more extreme elements of this CAP reform proposal.”

ICSA welcomes McDonald’s continued support for Irish beef industry

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is welcoming the announcement that McDonald’s has awarded a lucrative contract to Dawn Meats for the processing of up to 18,000 tonnes of Irish beef annually for its extensive restaurant chain.

The ICSA’s Beef Committee Chairman, Edmond Phelan says the €300 million euro contract is a major boost for the Irish beef industry.  “McDonald’s is already the single largest buyer of Irish beef, and the fact that it expects to grow this further in the coming years is hugely encouraging.  McDonald’s was one of the most high-profile participants in the ICSA Restaurant Certification scheme, and today one in five beef burgers served in McDonald’s restaurants across Europe is made from Irish beef.”

The McDonald’s contract means that Dawn Meats will be investing €14.5 million in a new, state of the art beef processing plant in Carroll’s Cross, Co. Waterford, creating 65 new jobs.  It solidifies Ireland’s position as a strategically important market for the global restaurant chain and means that Irish beef, which had previously been shipped to the UK and Europe for processing, will now be processed here, adding value to the beef products being exported from Ireland.

“The Dawn Meats contract and subsequent investment is hugely significant for the whole industry; and is a further indication of the high level of confidence consumers have in Irish beef products, both here and abroad,” Mr. Phelan added. 

The announcement comes on top of a visit to Ireland by Vice Minister Gao Hongbin, from the Chinese Agriculture Ministry, marking a significant step forward in the efforts to begin exporting Irish beef to China.  A full technical team is also due to come to Ireland in the coming weeks, to examine first hand the controls applying to beef production here. 

“I think this is a very exciting prospect for Irish beef producers and processors.  If the industry is to remain strong and vibrant then developing new markets is absolutely crucial, and the Chinese market would open up a world of opportunities,” according to Mr. Phelan.

“This visit, which is a follow up to the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping, demonstrates a real interest by the Chinese Government in our beef, which is hugely positive for the future.”

With one week to go, ICSA urges Yes vote

With one week to go, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is reiterating its call for a Yes vote in the forthcoming Referendum on the Fiscal Treaty (Treaty on Stability Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union). 

The ICSA’s National Executive last week came out in favour of a Yes vote after a meeting in Dublin, which was addressed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Simon Coveney TD, and Professor Anthony Coughlan.

ICSA General Secretary Eddie Punch said, “stability is now of premium importance for Ireland.  From a farming point of view, instability will further set back important decisions on CAP reform and a decision on the EU budget for the 2014-2020 period.”

“The ICSA’s National Executive has endorsed the campaign in favour of the Treaty having gone through a democratic process and listened carefully to both sides of the argument.  For that reason, we can recommend the Yes vote to farmers, even though there are no certainties regarding the future of the European or Irish economies and it is clear that there are no silver bullet solutions.”

Mr. Punch added, “the farming and agri-food sector is currently Ireland’s best performing industry, accounting for almost 10% of all employment in Ireland and contributing €9 billion in exports to the economy.  A Yes vote will provide certainty and support so that the sector can continue to thrive and lead the country back to growth.  Among other benefits, it will put Ireland in the strongest position to secure the best possible deal in the CAP reform negotiations, for the benefit of all producers and consumers in the coming years.”