ICSA WELCOMES ROBUST DEFENCE OF DIRECT PAYMENTS IN BRUSSELS IN FACE OF COURT OF AUDITORS CRITICISMS

21 NOVEMBER 2018

ICSA president Patrick Kent has welcomed the robust defence of the CAP – particularly direct payments – mounted by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan in response to the criticisms of the CAP reform proposals by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Mr Kent was attending the European Parliament agriculture committee meeting today (Wednesday 21 November) in Brussels where officials from the ECA outlined their opinion on the CAP reform.

“The point is not that there is no room for improvement on the proposals but there is a real concern that the Court of Auditors are going beyond auditing duties and making very political points about  the value of direct payments to farmers.  It was notable that many MEPs including the Irish MEPs on ComAgri – Mairead McGuinness, Matt Carthy and Luke Ming Flanagan – were also vocal in outlining the importance of direct payments.”

“The danger is that there are individuals and bodies in Europe who would prefer to sideline the  original objective outlined in the Treaty of Rome to provide farmers with a fair standard of living. This is a worrying trend. However, the critical point is that the Court of Auditors needs to be an auditor and not a policy maker, which is the role of the Commission, the Parliament and the Council.”

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BOOST FOR RURAL IRELAND WITH FUNDING FOR OUTDOOR RECREATIONAL SCHEME ANNOUNCED

20 NOVEMBER 2018

ICSA rural development chair Seamus Sherlock has welcomed the announcement of €8.14 million in funding for strategic projects under the 2018 Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme. The announcement was made today (20 Nov) by Michael Ring, Minister for Rural and Community Development.

Commenting Mr Sherlock said, “The on-going development of a number of very deserving projects has been secured by this announcement today. Recreational tourism comprises a very important component in maintaining the fabric of rural Ireland and we commend all the efforts that go into planning and developing these initiatives.”

Mr Sherlock added that, “For these projects to succeed consultation with local farmers and landowners affected is crucial. Engagement needs to begin from the very inception of a project and not when decisions have been made. Unfortunately we have learned from bitter experience that a lack of proper engagement with those farmers and landowners impacted can cause problems down the line.”

“The aim of scheme is provide quality recreational infrastructure for locals and visitors alike and this can be achieved with all stakeholders included at every step along the way.”

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GOOD NEWS FOR THE ORGANICS SECTOR AS SCHEME REOPENS – ICSA

20 NOVEMBER 2018

ICSA Organics chairman Fergal Byrne has welcomed the reopening of the Organics Farming Scheme (OFS) on a targeted basis. Commenting Mr Byrne said, “During our discussions as part of the Organics Strategy Group it was decided to reopen the scheme in a way that would address a current output shortfall in certain sectors. In this regard, priority will initially be given to the tillage, horticulture and dairy sectors.”

While the number of applications accepted into the scheme will be determined by the funding, a ranking and selection process utilising a scoring system will be employed to conclude which candidates will ultimately be admitted.

Preference will be given as follows:

Previous or existing OFS operators: 5 marks

Sector: Horticulture 50 marks, Tillage 50 marks, Dairy 45 marks, Beef 10 marks (Max 50 marks).

Total Conversion Vs Partial Conversion: 0.5 mark per 1% of land converted (Max 10 marks).

Large Operators: 1 mark per ha owned, 0.5 marks for leased land (Max 50 marks).

Mixed Farming: Operators with arable and forage on BPS (Max 10 marks).

The scheme is designed to assist farmers through their conversion to organic farming and covers a minimum five year period. Payments of up to €220 per hectare can be drawn down during the conversion period and up to €170 per hectare when full organic status is achieved. “For those already in the scheme, this provides reassurance that similar payments will be available for all sectors post 2020,” said Mr Byrne.

“While it is disappointing that the beef and sheep categories will not be at the forefront of this round of admissions to the scheme, the marking system reflects the under supply in certain categories while demonstrating the need to focus on finding additional markets for beef and lamb.”

The closing date for this round of applications is Wednesday 19 December. All applicants must reach a minimum ranking of 25 marks to be deemed eligible for consideration for inclusion in the scheme, however the submission of a valid application will not guarantee entry to the scheme. It is also noted that selection, prioritisation and scoring criteria may vary for each new application period.

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GOING THE EXTRA MILE FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES

16 NOVEMBER 2018

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has spoken of the need for people to “go the extra mile for their communities” at a public meeting focusing on the issues of Rural Isolation and Mental Health held in Bridgetown, Co Clare last night (15 Nov).

Following the well-attended meeting, organised by An Garda Síochána, Mr Sherlock said, “Isolation, mental health issues and financial debt are all features of everyday life in rural Ireland. Evenings like this offer communities the opportunity to come together and talk about these difficulties and lift the stigma surrounding them. Particularly now, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we all need to make a special effort to keep our rural communities strong and inclusive.”

“Many people find themselves living alone in isolated areas with little or no contact from the outside world with poor phone coverage and often non-existent broadband. It’s not hard to see why a culture of silence and keeping things to yourself has built up, but times have changed and the message has to be delivered to each and every single person that most of us are in the same boat in some way, shape or form and that support is available.”

“This is particularly important when it comes to mental health and financial debt. As pressures mount people can freeze with panic which allows the confusion and fear to become all consuming. I must commend An Garda Síochána for continuing to roll out these vitally important community meetings and tackling these hard to talk about issues. Sgt Edel Burke Curtain in particular has been tireless in actively going out and visiting homes and encouraging people to attend, even those who would normally be wary of getting involved.”

Concluding Mr Sherlock said, “The shadow cast by rural crime was also once again highlighted this evening. ICSA will continue to emphasise the need for more resources for community policing and we urge the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to take the necessary steps that would allow Gardaí spend more time out in the community rather than behind office desks.”

Other guest speakers on the night included Crime Prevention Officer Sgt Triona O’Rourke and Noreen Murphy, the founder of Lisheen House Suicide Prevention in West Cork.

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OPPORTUNITIES TO HARNESS THE POTENTIAL OF THE WOOL INDUSTRY NEED TO BE EXPLORED

14 NOVEMBER 2018

ICSA sheep chairman John Brooks has called for the establishment of a dedicated Irish Wool Forum to address the continuous decline of the industry. Mr Brooks was speaking following a string of bleak UK wool auctions, where low prices and the low volume of sales have caused concern. Commenting, Mr Brooks said, “Sales at the Bradford Wool Sales are a key indicator of what Irish Farmers can expect to achieve for wool. Unfortunately, all indications point to an impending total price collapse.”

The total weight offered for auction at Bradford last week (6 Nov) was 1.475m kg while the total weight sold was 0.735m kg, bringing a clearance of just 49.8%. Standard sales would often see over 2m kg up for sale with a clearance of over 90%. “With prices also continuing to fall, the result is that buyers are not quoting for Irish wool as the market just isn’t there.”

Continuing Mr Brooks said, “It makes no sense to sit back and watch an industry decline into oblivion. We already have some great businesses here that harness all the qualities of wool and produce the finest products including: fabrics, bedding, carpeting and for insulation purposes. While we commend these businesses, they utilise only a fraction of wool produced annually. There is massive scope to do more.”

Mr Brooks stressed that a concerted effort must be made to ensure this abundant natural resource can reach its full potential. However, he also noted that there could also be animal welfare issues if farmers cannot sustain the cost of shearing. “This is a real vicious circle; the price achieved for wool is not covering the cost of shearing. Then, to add insult to injury, we see what should be considered a valuable and environmentally friendly raw material being dumped.”

Concluding Mr Brooks said, “The reality is the future should be bright for wool. At a time when policies in all sectors are moving towards anti-waste positions, I see no reason why wool should be treated any differently. ICSA is calling for initiatives both at here at home and at EU level that would drive the industry forward. It is imperative on so many levels that this issue of such a wasted natural resource is addressed.”

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PROGRESS AT TB FORUM WHILE CONTENTIOUS ISSUES REMAIN

6 NOVEMBER 2018

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chairman Hugh Farrell has said that contentious issues remain as the TB Forum continues to debate DAFM proposals to reform the TB Eradication Programme. Commenting on developments so far, Mr Farrell said, “We have received assurances from the Department that a target of seven days is now in place for the removal of reactor cattle. A streamlining of this process is welcome as any delay can exacerbate the potential for further spread of the disease.”

ICSA is continuing to push for compensation levels that adequately reflect the impact of the loss of the animal/animals to the farming enterprise. “When it comes to breeding stock there has to be flexibility in the system to allow valuers give an honest and true assessment of what an animal is worth. The value of top quality suckler and dairy cows, show calibre stock and pedigree animals cannot be ascertained by looking at average mart prices.

Breeding animals can be worth several hundred euros in excess of the typical price given. In this regard, ICSA has also voiced concerns that undue pressure is being put on valuers to avoid giving the real value of high calibre cow or heifer. ICSA is very insistent that the independence and expertise of valuers should be respected by the Department,” said Mr Farrell.

The proposal by DAFM to display herd TB history at marts has yet to be substantively tackled at the forum, however, Mr Farrell remains adamant that “ICSA opposes herd health history being displayed because the repercussions of such a move would seriously undermine the business of such farmers. We have made it clear at every opportunity that the forum must help chart a future direction that will be sensitive to farmers’ needs while being effective in terms of TB eradication. Destroying livelihoods in the process cannot be countenanced.”

Mr Farrell said this was particularly relevant as “Progress with the wildlife strategy is crucial to any strategy to eliminate TB. We must see tangible improvements in this area and would caution against moving too quickly to badger vaccination over culling. Control and culling of wild deer will also be essential if we are serious about the 2030 target to eliminate TB without unnecessarily punishing farmers trying to make a living.”

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UPDATE ON FLOOD RISK INIATIVES WELCOMED BY ICSA

5 NOVEMBER 2018

ICSA President Patrick Kent has welcomed an update from Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, on measures to alleviate the risk of flooding in the River Shannon region. Commenting Mr Kent said, “Efficient movement of the River Shannon is the key to reducing the risk of flooding. For too many years we have been witnessing the devastation caused by poor management of this vitally important waterway.”

Minister Moran was in Leitrim today where he discussed arrangements for the advancement of flood relief schemes in the county as well as other initiatives to better manage flood risk on the Shannon. The minister added that he, along with Leitrim County Council, had mapped a way forward for the advancement of flood relief schemes in the county and that funding of approximately €9 million will be provided by the Office of Public Works (OPW) for the capital cost of the schemes.

Continuing Mr Kent said, “Homes and livelihoods have been literally been washed away as report after report piled up on managing the River Shannon. This reassurance by the minister that the necessary works might finally get up and running is welcome news indeed. It was also pointed out that targeted maintenance in the form of dredging and the removal of debris is underway, or has been completed, at three locations along the Shannon. I would urge that these efforts be expanded and that the targeting of pinchpoints should now be given priority. We should not have to wait for additional reports from consultants for this to happen.”

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VULTURE WINGS MUST BE CLIPPED

5 NOVEMBER 2018

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has called on the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe to consider measures to control the sell-off of loans involving family farms to hedge funds. Mr Sherlock said, “The farming community must stand together on this issue and send a clear message to vulture funds that any attempt to sell distressed farmland will be met with community resistance.”

Continuing Mr Sherlock said “There are various figures relating to the acreage already under the control of such funds, however, ICSA believes this will only be a drop in the ocean if proper measures are not put in place to curtail these vulture funds.”

“Banks have worked with farmers for generations and now these same financial institutions are throwing farm families to the wolves. Landing farm families in the ruthless grip of vulture funds to face a perilous future is an abomination. It is a practice that should not be allowed to continue and if it needs political intervention so be it.”

“In the interim, we need to continue to send a strong message to fund managers that the best way forward has always been, and will always be, to deal with the family by restructuring existing loans. This must be done at a reasonable rate bearing in mind these loans were purchased at a fraction of the original debt. The option of a forced sale should never be considered unless there is absolutely no engagement by the borrower.”

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ICSA CALLS FOR EXTRA RESOURCES FOR COMMUNITY POLICING INITIATIVES AT THE JOINT OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE & EQUALITY

17 OCTOBER 2018

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock had said “People in rural Ireland are living in fear and that it’s time to prioritise the fight against crime and time to deliver enough resources to the Gardai.” Mr Sherlock made his comments while addressing the issue of Community Policing & Rural Crime before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality this morning.

Continuing Mr Sherlock said, “There is no substitute for having Gardaí on the ground. We need local communities to be on first name terms with Gardaí. ICSA is concerned that restrictions on Garda overtime is impacting the ability to fight crime and to be on the case rapidly. We want to see a higher Garda presence in rural areas, and the ability to respond to calls for help as fast as possible.”

“The feeling among many is that it is better to call your neighbour than to call the Gardaí when you feel threatened.” He said many farmers are spending money trying to make their premises more secure but that these solutions are not cheap for individual farm families. Mr Sherlock added however that rural communities were more than willing to play their part in combating crime through community policing initiatives but that these initiatives were in need of more resources.

“ICSA is also concerned that criminals who continuously re-offend get treated too lightly by the criminal justice system.  All too often, we see crime committed by individuals who should be in jail. We want to see stiffer sentencing for repeat offenders. The purpose of the criminal justice system should also be about protecting innocent people in their homes.”

Mr Sherlock was also critical of the CCTV scheme introduced to assist communities with installing cameras locally as a crime deterrent. The initiative has proved overly cumbersome for communities to engage with, which has resulted in a low up-take. “An urgent review needs to be carried out at this stage to see how local communities can be further assisted with utilising the scheme. Of particular importance is clarification as to whether the Gardaí or local authorities are responsible managing the footage collected.”

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ICSA PROTEST BEEF PRICES AT DAWN MEATS BALLYHAUNIS

15 OCTOBER 2018

Frustrated farmers have protested outside Dawn Meats, Ballyhaunis this morning to reflect the anger at continuous cuts in beef price by meat factories.  The protest has been organised by ICSA – the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association who say that farmers in the beef sector have been crucified by beef price cuts in a year when farmers have substantial extra costs due to extreme weather.

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham said farmers cannot continue to produce beef at current prices. “It is beyond belief that in a year like this, when farmers are on their knees with extra cost arising from a fodder crisis that the meat industry would seek to increase profits on the back of farmers.”

“There was an orchestrated effort to drive down beef price over several weeks. Since ICSA first  took action on October 5, the price cutting has stopped. But now we want to drive price back up and no farmer should dream of selling steers this week at less than €3.85. Current prices, however, are totally inadequate when costs of production are at least €4.40/kg for cattle from the dairy herd.  Meanwhile, the suckler herd is not profitable unless price is closer to €5/kg.”

“It is time for farmers to fight back. We cannot go on working for nothing and risking substantial capital finishing cattle especially as we enter the expensive winter finishing period.”

ICSA president Patrick Kent said that ICSA was sending a very clear message to retailers that beef  farmers were being exploited.  “There will be no hiding place for retailers now who claim they are supporting farmers.   Retailers cannot boast about sustainable beef and then profiteer when farmers are not even getting the cost of production.”

“Retailers and processors need to wake up to the fact that there will be no sustainable beef if they continue to squeeze the primary producer. ICSA  is calling for a halt to the exploitation of family farms.”

The ICSA president also hit out at the failure of new international markets to deliver strong prices for farmers. “Compared to five years ago we have seen the opening of markets in the USA, China, South East Asia and this week Kuwait. Yet there has been no benefit to farmers and prices today are weaker than five years ago.”

“ICSA is sending out a strong message that farmers cannot stand idly by as their livelihoods are being decimated.  This is the second day of action and unless prices improve further disruption cannot be ruled out.”

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