SHEEP FARMERS SEVERELY DISADVANTAGED WITH ONLINE ONLY MART SALES

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30 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said sheep farmers are facing enormous difficulties as a result of the current level 5 restrictions at marts and has called on Minister McConalogue to urgently revisit the matter. “Sheep farmers need to be able to make informed decisions around the stock they buy in. These decisions are based on physical inspections of lambs and judgement calls around fitness to kill. You cannot buy lambs without handling them. None of this is possible with online sales,” he said.

“Sheep farmers have been put at a severe disadvantage as it is simply not possible to properly evaluate stock online. We cannot continue with a situation whereby trade is being stifled to such an extent that farmers are unable to farm. Primary producers are a vital part of the food chain and they must be afforded the ability to continue to conduct their businesses.”

Mr McNamara said apart from the difficulties with evaluating lambs online there is a wider issue of being able to access the sales at all. “The lack of broadband reliability is wreaking havoc, but the age demographic of sheep farmers is also an issue. By and large sheep farmers are that bit older and not as robust when it comes to trading online and allowances must be made for this. We have to keep our businesses going and greater flexibility will have to be shown around allowing limited numbers into marts for sales.”

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ICSA CALLS FOR EXTENSION OF BEEP-S DEADLINE AND CLARIFICATION ON MEAL FEEDING REQUIREMENTS

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30 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA suckler chair Ger O’Brien has called on Minister McConalogue to extend the deadline for submitting dung samples under the BEEP-S scheme due to the unavailability of sampling kits. “The situation has become urgent; farmers have been unable to acquire the necessary kits in order to complete this requirement under the scheme. Likewise, labs are having difficulties processing the sheer volume of samples. The Department of Agriculture needs to give some leeway on this,” he said.

“ICSA has received reports from around the country on this issue and we do not want to see any farmers losing out as a result of hold-ups in the system.”

Mr O’Brien also called for clarity around the requirement for submitting meal feeding documents under the scheme. “ICSA understands that this is not a requirement for all BEEP-S participants and applies only to farmers who have received a specific instruction to submit such documentation. However, the issue is causing much confusion amongst farmers and requires further clarification from the Department.”

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MARTS MUST BE ALLOWED TO HAVE BIDDERS IN THE RING

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28 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has reiterated his call to allow bidders in the ring at marts nationwide. “The complete shutdown of marts to bidders on foot of Level 5 restrictions proved disastrous at the weekend when one of the main online bidding systems collapsed. ICSA has repeatedly pointed out that many marts and their customers have problems with reliable broadband.”

“Suggestions that marts should not rely on one auction platform are not practicable and ignore the reality that the ultra-tight margins in marts do not allow the luxury of having more than one online system as a back-up, because installation is the biggest cost. In any event, thousands of farmers and agents are now effectively excluded from the livestock auction process because they don’t have the broadband and in some cases, the IT capabilities.”

“The Minister cannot allow the complete disruption of mart trading at the most critical time of year. Farmers desperately need to trade stock at present to keep their farming systems viable. It is critical that marts are fully functional to ensure that there is fair competition for stock. Keeping the meat factories open while closing the marts is completely at odds with the experience this year of Covid clusters and many farmers are questioning why the Government seem to be more favourable to meat factories than to marts.”

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IMPORTANT WEEK FOR SUCKLER SCHEMES

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27 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA suckler chair Ger O’Brien has reminded suckler farmers that this week will be vital for all participating in suckler schemes. “BDGP participants must ensure that 50% of their reference number are eligible genotyped, 4/5 star females over 16 months of age on 31 October. Failure to meet this target leaves a potential penalty of 140% of a full year’s payment. Farmers can still purchase these animals, but they must be transferred to the herd by October 31.”

“Suckler farmers participating in the BEEP S scheme must ensure that cow and calf pairs are weighed by 31 October at the latest. Farmers need to submit these results within seven days of weighing which means they must be in before November 7. This is worth €50/cow on the first 10 cows and €40/cow thereafter to a maximum 100 cows. There is an additional optional €30/cow for feeding meal pre-weaning and post-weaning or vaccinating against pneumonia. Records have to be submitted in relation to these. In particular, the records will have to show that calves were fed for a minimum four weeks before weaning and two weeks afterwards.”

“There is an additional €10/cow for taking dung samples to analyse for parasites and samples must be submitted to an approved laboratory before 1 November. A minimum 10 separate samples must be submitted to a maximum 100. In practice, 10 samples will suffice to give a good picture for the average suckler herd but large herds may choose to do more.”

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MART CHAOS PROVES LEVEL 5 RESTRICTIONS ARE UNWORKABLE 

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24 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has said the chaos at 17 livestock marts today (Saturday) due to the collapse of the online bidding system means there needs to be an urgent change of mind on how marts operate under Level 5 of Covid restrictions. 

“The chaos witnessed today with both farmers and animals stressed out of it from hanging around at marts is indefensible. Farmers with stock to sell had to wait around not knowing if their stock could be sold. It is clear that exclusive dependence on an online system is not tenable. Even if the system did not collapse, ICSA has repeatedly tried to highlight that lots of people in rural Ireland do not have access to reliable broadband. It is not acceptable that people who need to sell livestock to pay bills are discommoded to this extent. Equally there are people who need to buy livestock to ensure their business can continue.”   

“We have all seen the video this week of the despair and trauma of a mart manager in Kenmare and this is a reflection of what is being felt around the country.”  

“Agriculture is an essential business and ICSA cannot accept that marts need to be left high and dry with the obvious limitations of dependency on broadband. There are thousands of workers who continue to congregate in all sorts of industry and factories, and it is not acceptable that marts are not treated the same. This is the most important time of year for the mart trade and I am calling on Minister McConalogue to urgently address this. It is quite clear that NPHET has no understanding whatsoever of how agriculture works but it is the case that food production has been deemed essential. If people are allowed buy meat in a supermarket, farmers must be able to buy and sell livestock in a mart.”   

ICSA suckler chair Ger O’Brien has called for flexibility with BDGP targets, due to the fact that normal livestock trading has been thrown into chaos. “In addition to the normal trading patterns, there are people who need a fully functioning mart system to buy animals to meet the requirements of the BDGP system, in regard to having 4/5 star replacement females in the herd on October 31st. ICSA is calling for a degree of flexibility for farmers who do not have the animals in place on this date due to the obvious barriers caused by the mart chaos and the difficulties buying animals in without live auctions.”  

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ICSA WELCOMES €6 MILLION COMMITMENT TO DEVELOPING SUCKLER BRAND 

 

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23 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed progress at the Beef Taskforce which went on late into the night (Thursday 22 October). “While ICSA would have preferred an exclusively suckler based PGI, the development of a suckler premium brand is now a real possibility with the backing of €6 million state funding and agreement that it would be overseen by a majority farmer representative committee.”

The agreement after weeks of protracted negotiations means that there the Irish application for grass fed beef PGI will be amended to allow suckler bull beef qualify and that the PGI will also be overseen by a majority farmer representative committee. “So there is now going to be two separate initiatives to improve the market image of Irish beef, one being the grass-fed PGI and the other is the new suckler brand. Each will be monitored by farmer controlled committees, which we hope can keep the emphasis on the primary producer.”

“However, this is only a start. ICSA fought very hard to ensure that the PGI committee can control the use of the PGI logo so that if it doesn’t deliver for farmers, it will have to be brought back to the drawing board. In particular, we insisted that the monitoring committee would have power to tackle abuses of the PGI and ensure that the added value is returned fairly to the farmer.”

“In particular, ICSA has been at pains to point out that farmers need to be in control of initiatives that are meant to benefit the primary producer. We have had to fight hard to ensure that these initiatives deliver for the farmers of Ireland. Too often, the beef sector has been seen as a vehicle to help Irish export figures or to enrich others along the supply chain.”

“ICSA had also argued that the level of funding for the suckler brand would indicate whether we were serious or not. The final proposal to double the previous offer to €6 million is progress and we welcome that. Today has also seen an acknowledgement that farmers need to have a majority in terms of the controlling committees and this has been achieved.”

“We expect to have further engagement with the Minister in the coming weeks.”

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PROCESSORS MUST FOLLOW THROUGH ON PROMISE TO INSTALL WEIGHING SCALES

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16 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said meat factories must follow through on their commitment to supply live weight information to farmers. “Under the terms of the Irish Beef Agreement meat processors gave an undertaking that they would install weighing scales at plants so that farmers could get accurate information on the live weight of their cattle. To date, this has not been done,” he said.

“The Beef Taskforce needs to ensure that any measures agreed to at the Taskforce are carried out and carried out in a timely manner. We are at risk of farmers losing all confidence in the process if the processors can get away with procrastinating at every step along the way.”

Mr Graham said, “The Department of Agriculture has highlighted the importance of weighing cattle with schemes such as BDGP, BEEP and a new €5m initiative for weighing dairy calves. Now, we just need meat factories to play their part and deliver on their pledge to install these scales.”

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TESTING BADGERS FOR TB MUST GO HAND IN HAND WITH MAPPING BADGER SETTS

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16 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said testing badgers for TB must go hand in hand with the push to map badger setts. “The Department of Agriculture is currently asking farmers for their assistance in mapping badger setts, and while it is important to know the location of badger setts on our farms, it is also important to know if these badger have TB or not,” he said.

“For too long the Department has told us there is no need to TB test badgers in large numbers. However, the practice of testing only a small number of badgers and then estimating a national prevalence rate is just not good enough. We are going to need more precise information in our fight against TB. This must involve testing more badgers and delivering greater accuracy around tracking the spread of the disease through badgers. It must also involve the flow of this information back to farmers.”

Mr Farrell said all additional efforts to reduce the spread of TB are to be welcomed and that farmers would play their part. “Everybody has to do their bit and I would advise all farmers to look view the advice issued by the Department on protecting their herds from the threat posed by badgers. However, advising farmers to fence off badger setts is all well and good but knowing if the badgers are diseased, and removing them if they are, is key to controlling the spread.”

Mr Farrell was critical of the push by the Department to limit the culling of badgers in favour of a vaccination programme. “The argument that a vaccination programme is as effective as a culling programme does not hold weight when we are constantly being informed that TB levels are rising. This is particularly relevant in areas like Monaghan and Offaly where the switch to vaccination has coincided with a marked increase in the number of reactors.”

Mr Farrell said he also expects scientific evidence confirm the fears of many farmers that deer populations are contributing to the problem. “The Department have been too slow to accept any responsibility in controlling the spread of TB through wild deer. However, farmers are more convinced than ever that they are also a key driver in the spread, and ICSA believes scientific evidence will soon bear this out.”

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ICSA WELCOMES GOVERNMENT INVESTMENT IN WOOL FEASIBILITY STUDY

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14 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has welcomed the Government commitment to undertake a feasibility study on wool which was announced by Minister Pippa Hackett as part of Budget 2021. “ICSA has been at the centre of a push to reverse the decline in the value of wool. We believe this €100,000 feasibility study on the wool market must focus on the potential for wool to contribute significantly to our green economy, and on delivering a return to sheep farmers for the supply of that wool,” he said.

“Work undertaken so far by ICSA has revealed there is massive scope to revitalise the entire wool industry here. There are a wealth of uses for wool which span across a whole range of sectors, and the priority now must be capturing that potential. It is time for wool to take its place as a valued and valuable natural resource.”

Mr McNamara also welcomed the clarity around the continuation of the Sheep Welfare Scheme but said the lack of an increase in the rate of payment was disappointing. “ICSA believes the scheme does need considerable new investment will continue to lobby for a €30/head sheep payment in the next round of CAP.”

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INCREASED BUDGET FOR ORGANICS SCHEME MUST BE MATCHED WITH PUSH FOR NEW MARKETS

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14 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne has welcomed the increase in funding to the Organics Scheme announced in Budget 2021. “Increasing the funding to €16m annually and opening the scheme to new applicants is a step in the right direction. However, more needs to be done in terms of accessibility to the scheme and in the development of new markets for organic produce.”

“We know the Organics sector needs considerable new investment if it is to expand in any meaningful way and increasing the annual budget from €12 to €16m is certainly a good start. However, the EU Farm to Fork strategy contains an EU wide target of 25% (in terms of the area farmed) to be set aside for organic farming by 2030. This is an ambitious target and one that makes it clear we need to do much more if we are serious about contributing to that ambition.”

“ICSA wants to see farmers from all sectors given the opportunity to move to organic farming and for them to be given the necessary support to do so. The last call for applications under the Organics Scheme prioritised the tillage, dairy and horticulture sectors, while access for cattle and sheep farmers was restricted. ICSA does not want to see a repeat of this, and all farmers prepared to make the switch to organic farming must be facilitated.”

“A drive to secure adequate markets for organic produce must also be done in tandem with the widening of the scheme. We already struggle to find markets for the organic beef and lamb we currently produce, yet consumer studies across Europe suggest that the market opportunity is far greater than the size of the supply. Ireland can be a world leader when it comes to organic produce but tapping into all new market opportunities is key.”

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