One small cut for Government – one giant leap for business

27th August, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is calling on the Government to suspend the carbon tax to alleviate pressure on businesses, particularly farm business, as Irish farming attempts to deal with one of the toughest years in recent times.  

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said, “Fuel prices are set to rise to shocking levels in the coming weeks, and I dread to think of the bills that the farming sector, particularly agricultural contractors, will face when they go to fill their tanks with diesel.  That being the case, the carbon tax is making significant inroads into farmers’ ability to produce at competitive prices.”  

“At the moment the carbon tax comes in at over  6 cent per litre on green diesel (or €20/tonne – up from €15/ tonne before May 1st, 2012).  That’s a very significant amount of money when you consider how many litres would be put into the tank of a combine harvester, for example.  In fact, Teagasc estimated that the carbon tax was costing farmers €24million per year at the €15/tonne rate.  It follows that the current rate of €20/tonne is costing farmers in the region of €32million a year.  The fact that there is a double offset for carbon tax against income tax for farmers is not particularly helpful – it’s administratively very difficult, and varies depending on which rate of income tax you’re on.  Moreover, the double offset only applies to the increased carbon tax which came in on May 1st this year, and is therefore of very limited benefit.”  

“With 2012 looking like being one of the toughest years faced by the entire agricultural sector in recent times, and fears already mounting about a rise in how much it will cost Irish consumers to put food on the table in the coming months, now is the time for the Government to do what it can to ease the pressure on both farmers and consumers.”  

Mr. Gilmartin concluded, “Suspending the carbon tax would be one small cut for Government – one giant leap for business competitiveness.”

ICSA welcomes extension of DAS deadline

21st August, 2012

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, has welcomed the decision by the Minister for Agriculture to extend the deadline for derogation applications under the 2012 Disadvantaged Area Scheme.  “Today’s announcement means farmers now have the chance to properly digest the changes to the scheme, and figure out whether they may be entitled to a derogation from the increased stocking density requirements.  ICSA had argued that the previous deadline of August 24th was too soon, given that farmers only received notification of the changes last week, so it is certainly a relief that the Department has granted the extension.”

Changes to the 2012 DAS have recently been approved by the EU Commission, which include a retrospective requirement to have had a stocking density of 0.3 livestock units per hectare for three consecutive months in 2011 – an increase from the previous rate of 0.15 livestock units per hectare.  Anyone who does not meet the new requirement can apply for a derogation.  Minister Coveney has announced that the closing date for the receipt of applications for derogations under the scheme is being extended for one week, until Friday, 31st of August 2012.  According to the Department of Agriculture, around 10,000 farmers have received letters in recent days informing them of the changes and that they can apply for a special derogation from the new requirements.  

Mr. Gilmartin urged farmers to carefully examine the new terms and conditions of the 2012 Disadvantaged Area Scheme.  “This payment is hugely important for farmers on poorer land, particularly this year given the tough conditions being faced by farmers, so it is of utmost importance that you state your case and make the application for a derogation if necessary.”

ICSA calls on Minister to extend deadline for derogations to DAS

20th August, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney TD, to extend the deadline for farmers to apply for a derogation under the amended Disadvantaged Area Scheme.

Changes to the 2012 DAS have recently been approved by the EU Commission, which include a retrospective requirement to have had a stocking density of 0.3 livestock units per hectare for three consecutive months in 2011 – an increase from the previous rate of 0.15 livestock units per hectare.  Anyone who does not meet the new requirement can apply for a derogation – however the deadline for such applications is just days away, on August 24th.  

There are a number of categories under which farmers who do not meet the new stocking density can apply for a derogation.  These include:

•    Participation in an agri-environmental scheme (such as AEOS or REPS),
•    Participation in a National Parks and Wildlife Service farm plan scheme,
•    Cases of exceptional circumstances or force majeure, or
•    Where farming commenced after the 1st of January, 2010 and the farmer is deemed a ‘new entrant’ to farming

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said, “We know that around 8,000 farmers do not meet this new requirement, but I understand many of them only received the letter informing them of this late last week.  I am therefore calling on the Minister to extend the deadline to apply for a derogation beyond the current deadline.  The Minister needs to give farmers a chance to digest the changes that have been made to the DAS and submit the required information to apply for a derogation where necessary.”  Mr. Gilmartin added that he had misgivings about the retrospective nature of the changes.  “Changing the rules after the event sets a bad precedent.”

Mr. Gilmartin concluded, “I would also add that I hope the changes being made to the scheme this year do not result in any delay in payments.  With the winter we are facing, it is crucial that payments are made on time.”

Farmers already pay more than urban counterparts to send children to college

14th August, 2012

As the debate surrounding the inclusion of capital assets in the third level grant means test rages on, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gimartin, has highlighted the fact that rural families sending kids to college in urban centres are already paying significantly more than their urban counterparts.

As outlined in the ICSA’s submission to the Capital Asset Test Implementation Group – the group which is examining the possibility of including capital assets in the third level grant means test – a study carried out by Dublin Institute of Technology estimates that it can cost rural-based students thousands of euro more per year to attend college in the capital, compared to Dublin-based students.  As the tables below illustrate, that additional cost can amount to more than €4,500, in the form of additional accommodation, travel, food and utility costs.  

Mr. Gilmartin said, “I would hope that Minister Quinn is not going to ignore the fact that farming families already have a huge additional financial obstacle to overcome in order to send their kids to college, compared to urban families.  To include the value of their essential assets in calculating eligibility for the student grant would make that job even more difficult; impossible in some cases.”

“Any suggestion that farmers should simply liquidate their assets in order to afford third level education is ludicrous.  Farm assets are not second homes, or investment properties, or luxuries of any sort.  Farm assets are the essential tools of the trade, and to liquidate them would seriously impact farmers’ means of generating income.”

“There is no room for argument on this issue.  Minister Quinn simply cannot entertain any proposal that would so disproportionately affect the farming community.”

Table 1 – Average cost of Living for Student Renting Accommodation in Dublin



 Annual Cost




 Elec/Gas/Bins (Public Utilities)






 Travel (Monthly Commuter Ticket)



 Books and materials






 Mobile Phone



 Social Life/Miscellaneous








Table 2 – Average cost of Living for Student Living at Home in Dublin



 Annual Cost

 Contribution to bills 









 Books and materials









 Social Life/Misc 








ICSA calling on all TDs to oppose changes to third level grant means test

8th August, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is calling on all TDs to come out in opposition to any proposals that would see capital assets included in the means test for the third level grant. ICSA president, Gabriel Gimartin, has welcomed the fact that a number of deputies have today voiced their opposition to such a change being made. “The ICSA has been actively lobbying against any such move since the possibility was first mooted.”

“While we understand that the Government is assessing all expenditure with a view to making necessary savings, we contend that the inclusion of capital assets in the third level grant means test would have far too great an impact on equity of access to third level education for families relying on income from self-employment, including farmers.”

“While there are all sorts of spurious allegations about farmers manipulating their incomes to qualify, there has been no evidence advanced that this is in fact actually a factor in determining the amount of farm families qualifying. In a bad year, such as 2009, only 6% of farms generated an income greater than €40,000 which is below the eligibility cut off for full grant.”

The reality of the situation is illustrated by the following figures from the recent Teagasc National Farm Survey: the typical 30 to 50 hectare farm generated just €14,735 in income (in the case of suckler farms), €20,363 (in the case of beef farms), and €19,402 (in the case of sheep farms) in 2011. It is also worth noting that 2011 was, in general, a good year for farming – bad weather conditions and rapidly increasing commodity costs mean that incomes are likely to be significantly lower in 2012.

Mr. Gilmartin concluded, “the really critical issue is that most farms actually generate very low levels of income. Perhaps that explains why such farm families are very keen to get their children to go to third level in the expectation that the farm cannot provide a decent living. The evidence is clear that almost all cattle and sheep farms do not support an income anywhere near the cut-off for third level grants.”

Banks will have to play their part in getting through looming winter fodder crisis

31st July, 2012

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, says banks have to recognise that they will have to play their part in allowing farmers to trade through the looming winter fodder crisis.  

Mr. Gilmartin made the comments following the release of a Teagasc survey, showing that 15 per cent of drystock farmers say they will be short of silage for next winter.  “There is no doubt that this is going to have a serious impact on cashflow on Irish farms.  Farmers are going to have to spend their way out of this situation, because there is no other solution to a fodder shortage other than to buy in supplementary feed.  Traditionally, straw is used as an alternative to silage – but we don’t know what the straw supply will be like because the corn hasn’t been cut yet.”

“This is where the banks come in.  They must sit up and recognise the reality of what’s happening on the farms.  They cannot continue to ignore the needs of their farming customers.  We must be allowed to access credit and trade through what we know will be a very tough winter,” Mr. Gilmartin concluded.

ICSA says beef price drops raise serious questions on beef future

31st July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association beef chairman Edmond Phelan is extremely critical of the sudden beef price drops in July, which call into question the wisdom of Food Harvest 2020 expansion targets.  “We have seen yet again that there is no real commitment by beef processors to a long-term sustainable margin for beef farmers.  Instead of partnership, trust is again breaking down.   Factories seem to look for every chance to capitalise on any weakness among sellers.”  
“The biggest weakness is when supplies increase relative to demand.  For that reason, I would have to reiterate that plans to expand beef output by 40% are pie in the sky unless we can see real evidence first that markets have expanded.  Instead we are now faced with the question- is a weekly kill of 23,000 or 24,000 too much?”
“The meat factories need to provide answers.  It is clear that price cuts in July were not due to oversupply.  It is likely that they were just taking advantage of farmers who were in a weak position.  Soft selling is always something that we try to encourage farmers away from but it’s not always easy when the weather is so atrocious.”
Mr Phelan also suggested that some soft selling is arising due to cash flow difficulties.  “I am very concerned that banks are not walking the walk in terms of supporting farmers, particularly with overdrafts and other temporary loans.  There are disturbing reports of overdraft facilities being squeezed.  Banks have no justification for this, as the farming loan book is one of the best assets in banks. A farmer who has cattle to sell should not have to sell under pressure if it is more advantageous to wait or to feed for a few weeks.  Banks need to understand this and to support it,” said Mr Phelan.  
“Unless there is a commitment from processors and banks to the sustainability of beef farming, then there will be a real question mark over the future of beef and particularly over the Food Harvest 2020 expansion plans,” he concluded. 

ICSA rejects notion of return to coupled farm payments at Sligo meeting

26th July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gilmartin, has rejected any suggestion that Ireland should return to any form of coupled payments system under the new CAP, which is currently being negotiated.  

“The reality is that decoupling has played a key role in increased livestock prices for both cattle and sheep.  While meat factories are actively supporting a return to the old systems of premia, that’s only because they want to pay less for stock.  Farmers should be very wary of going back to the old ways.”  

“Getting your Single Payment cut and then getting it back with terms and conditions attached as a suckler premium or ewe premium is potentially disastrous because it will lead to increased numbers and more control of prices for factories.  Any support scheme which artificially encourages farmers to keep more stock than the market wants can only lead to falling prices.  It’s not that long ago that farmers thought that 90p/lb was a good target for beef price.”

Mr Gilmartin was speaking at an open forum on the CAP reform negotiations, organised by ICSA, at the Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo last week, which was chaired by ICSA Connaught/Ulster vice president John Flynn and featured guest speakers Marian Harkin MEP, Michael Colreavy TD and Senator Marc Mac Sharry.  

One of the main concerns during the CAP reform talks, according to Mr. Gilmartin, is the fact that the overall EU budget has yet to be decided – and this means that we don’t know how much will be allocated to the CAP post-2013.  Ideally, the CAP reforms would be decided upon during the Irish presidency of the EU in the first half of next year – however this is looking increasingly unlikely.  Mr. Gilmartin has written to the Taoiseach seeking a meeting with him to emphasise the need to get a deal done on the CAP budget as quickly as possible.

Guest speaker, MEP Marian Harkin – who is a member of the European Parliament agriculture committee – outlined that she has received some suggestions that it might be time to return to a system of coupled payments for farmers.  ICSA was the main force behind the abolition of coupled payments in the early 2000s, a move which has been credited as being behind the increase in quality in Irish beef and the higher prices Irish cattle have been making in recent years.  Both Gabriel Gilmartin and Eddie Punch rejected outright any suggestion that going back to coupled payments as being a backward step, which would be detrimental to Irish farmers in the long run.  

Mr. Gilmartin also outlined to those at the meeting that one of the other big concerns is the desire of EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, to bring in a flat rate payment per hectare – which ICSA says, “might work in theory but not in practice”.  Mr Gilmartin said that ICSA is working to minimise cuts to the Single Payment of active farmers.  He added that increases should be targeted carefully at deserving cases rather than a flat across the board increase for those with no or low payments.  

“The problem is that an across-the-board flat rate is inefficient because it spreads payments too thinly.  It involves redistributing money to sofa farmers and speculators as well as landowners with vast tracks of land. Meanwhile, active farmers lose out.”   
ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch gave a comprehensive presentation of the current state of play in the CAP negotiations.  Mr. Punch presented case studies showing the financial effect that will be felt by Irish farmers should either the Ciolos or Santos proposals be carried – and also presented the alternative strategy being pushed by the ICSA, which would see less cuts to Single Farm Payments in Ireland, while making the payments more targeted and efficient.  

Senator Marc Mac Sharry was adamant that Commissioner Ciolos must grasp the nature of Irish farming and realise that a ‘one size fits all’ CAP will not work here.  Deputy Michael Colreavy said meeting such as last week’s were very important, as they allow the farmers themselves to have a say in the crucial CAP talks.

ICSA welcomes advance payment under 2012 Single Farm Payment scheme

25th July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gilmartin said there will be sighs of relief from farmers across the country, as he welcomed the agreement reached in Brussels today which provides for the advance payment of 50% of the Single Farm Payment.  

It means that farmers whose SFP applications have been confirmed fully clear, will receive the advance on October 16th this year, with the balance being paid out on December 1st.  

Mr. Gilmartin said, “Farmers are facing astronomical increases in feed costs for the rest of the year as a result of the bad weather, the full impact of which is yet to be seen.  I am relieved to see that the Minister for Agriculture successfully argued the case for the advance payment.”

He concluded, “it is now vitally important that every effort is made to ensure that direct payments end up in farmers’ accounts as soon as possible.”

ICSA warns against premature forecast of better beef and sheep incomes this year

24th July, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin warned that it might be premature to forecast better beef and sheep incomes for 2012.  Mr Gilmartin was reacting to Teagasc forecasts that beef and sheep income could be up due to better livestock prices.

“We have yet to see big numbers of weanlings sold, so price predictions come with a health warning.  As we have seen in recent weeks, factories are looking to take advantage of any extra supply.”

“However, the biggest issue is whether we can assess the cost impacts of the awful weather until we see how the next few months turn out.  It’s certain that feed costs, especially on cattle farms, are rocketing due to farmers having to house stock over the summer months.”

“Poor quality silage will also have a huge impact on the need to buy in extra concentrates.  It will all depend on what the autumn is like and when the winter feeding period begins.”

“Aside from feed, there is ongoing pressure on costs from fertiliser and fuel prices as well.  Again poor weather is leading to less efficient use of these inputs.”

“So overall, I would be delighted to see an increase in cattle and sheep incomes in 2012, but I’m not sure it will pan out that way.”