18 APRIL 2018

ICSA president Patrick Kent has slammed the Citizens’ Assembly proposal to tax farmers for food production GHG emissions as a completely daft idea. “When you get daft proposals on additional taxes for farmers producing food enthusiastically backed by 89% of respondents and a proposal for a new quango backed by 97% of respondents, it is obvious that this does not arise from balanced debate and careful reflection. Instead, it suggests that the findings have been orchestrated by the way the debate has been framed and the questions put.”

“Did anyone ponder the hypocrisy of favouring carbon taxes for the end users of fuel but not for beef or dairy? The reality is that if the Citizens’ Assembly was asked if they favoured food taxes at retail level they would have been a lot slower to jump on the bandwagon. Moreover, they would then have to reflect on the fact that any such tax would have to be levied not just in Ireland but in every country in the world where we export food.”

“Applying a tax on Irish food production is daft because it ignores the inconvenient truth that people choose to eat and that most of these people are not actually in Ireland but in markets all over Europe and further afield. If we close down Irish beef farmers, we simply relocate the production of beef to other parts of the globe where they don’t give a toss about Citizens’ Assemblies. How stupid would it be to reduce Irish agricultural output so that the likes of Brazil could expand at a far higher environmental cost?”

“At least there was some acknowledgement that farming activities also sequester carbon and that farmers should be incentivised for providing carbon sinks. Contrary to popular belief, this should not be about sitka spruce plantations which are actually very limited in terms of sequestration but about well managed grassland farming combined with the maintenance of biodiverse landscapes.”

“A far more useful strategy would be to incentivise farmers to produce solar energy or invest in anaerobic digestion which produces renewable heat while reducing slurry emissions. Ireland also needs to reject the absurd EU Commission proposals to undermine crop based biofuels on EU farms which produce up to 70% lower GHG emissions than fossil fuels. While electric vehicles might eventually be attractive as an alternative, we have to deal with today’s fleet today.”

“The Government also needs to stand up and be counted on the climate impact of a potential Mercosur trade deal which in essence will result in increased imports of beef and ethanol at significant environmental cost when we could produce all we need of these products in the EU without the global transport emissions involved in imports from South America.



17 APRIL 2018

As wet weather conditions continue to have an adverse impact on regular farming activities, ICSA committee chairs have united in calling for a hardship fund to be established for drystock farmers. Suckler chair John Halley, beef chair Edmund Graham, sheep chair John Brooks and rural development chair Seamus Sherlock have all described the current plight of drystock farmers as untenable.

Suckler committee chair John Halley said, “Drystock farmers have been completely ignored during this fodder crisis. The extent of their struggles at this time has been side lined while the focus has been on dairy farmers. It is a cause for real concern that the pleas of drystock farmers are not being listened to and their concerns addressed. It must be remembered that there is no monthly cheque dropping through the letterbox for drystock farmers, so a dedicated hardship fund is vital at this stage.”

Beef chair Edmund Graham said, “Meat processors have failed to offer any assistance whatsoever. While the co-ops have done what they can, we remain at the mercy of factories that will use any opportunity to hammer us on price. We are at our wits end trying to cope with this crisis on our own and are at the back of the queue when it comes to access to imported fodder.”

Sheep chair John Brooks added, “Very capable drystock farmers are fed up of being given advice on top of advice when what they need is real support. Grass growth is barely a third of what would be expected and the funds are just not there to keep buying in feed.”

Rural development chair Seamus Sherlock said “The strain of this crisis is having a huge impact on the mental health of our farmers. We are not miracle workers and we cannot feed our cattle on thin air. Fields are saturated and getting stock out continues to be out of the question for many. Trying to manage and cope from day to day is all consuming.”

In addition to calling for a hardship fund for drystock farmers, the four committee chairs reiterated ICSA president Patrick Kent’s call for the following:

  • The immediate rollout of meal vouchers.
  • The introduction of a low interest loan scheme for small and medium sized farming enterprises for working capital.
  • All outstanding farm scheme payments to be made immediately.
  • Flexibility around the terms of targeted supports such as BDGP and the Sheep Welfare Scheme, including flexibility on inspections.



16 APRIL 2018

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that that logic has prevailed with the announcement from Minister Shane Ross today on tractor NCTs. “Clarification from the Minister that only tractors with a maximum design speed exceeding 40km/hr which are being used for non-agricultural activities will require roadworthiness testing vindicates ICSA’s position on the matter and is a victory for common sense.”

“ICSA has been engaged with the Department of Transport on this issue for several months now. Initial proposals caused widespread panic amongst farmers who felt they were going to be penalised for simply carrying out their farming activities. We had to lobby hard against an array of unworkable elements contained in the proposed legislation. ICSA was insistent that for the legislation to work in practical terms, it could not make a distinction between the farmer and the contractor. The results are in now and NCTs will not apply to tractors used for the purposes of farming or agricultural contracting, which will certainly come as a relief for many.”

Mr Kent thanked the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for their progressive engagement on this issue.



16 APRIL 2018

ICSA suckler chairman John Halley has called for flexibility around the terms of the BDGP in recognition of the extreme difficulties posed by the fodder crisis. “Farmers may inadvertently miss out on BDGP targets such as the 20% four and five star rule due to having to sell heifers because of fodder scarcity.

This measure requires farmers to reach a target of having 20% of female stock over 16 months of age achieving four or five star ratings on the replacement index on 31st October 2018. While there is a tolerance of 90%, any farmer who falls below that target gets an effective penalty of 40%.”

“ICSA believes that where a farmer can show that failure to meet the target is linked to the long hard winter and fodder crisis, there should be a derogation from the penalty. This could have arisen where female stock were sold during the first half of 2018 or where an animal was disposed of at a knackery. In cases where such animals would have made the difference to the targets, then the penalties should be waived.”



16 APRIL 2018

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Graham has said that farmers will have to see a dividend from the opening of the Chinese market before it can be judged a success. “After a long hard and expensive winter, the price of beef is simply nowhere near good enough for winter finishing. Beef price needs to go to a base price of €4.25/kg in the short term to cover the costs of this winter. Farmers have been listening to optimism about China for five years but it is no use to us if it does not result in a price rise.”

“There can be no doubt that the opening of the market should allow for better prices because meat factories will have options. They will therefore be in a stronger position to negotiate with EU supermarkets, and this opportunity must be used to drive a better price for farmers.”

“Minister Creed states that this move is in line with the market development theme of Foodwise 2025, but will it just end up costing farmers more? We have seen that increased production has certainly resulted in more work and more pressure for farmers but not necessarily more reward. The focus has to be on ensuring that new markets have a tangible benefit to farmers.”

“ICSA remains convinced that the best way to turn Chinese exports into better prices for farmers is to grow live exports as well. ICSA is calling on the Minister to now focus on live export markets such as Turkey and North Africa.”



13 APRIL 2018

News that Tesco has just announced profits of £1.3 billion sterling further vindicates the ICSA call for transparency around the food chain and who makes what margins, according to ICSA president Patrick Kent. “It has been suggested that the Tesco chief executive has been extraordinarily successful in cutting costs. The question is how has this been achieved and have farmers and suppliers been squeezed as part of the strategy?”

“The answer is that we simply do not know but it is extremely frustrating to see such incredible success at the retail end of the food chain when many farmers in Ireland and the UK are struggling to afford to buy extra fodder to cope with the extreme weather.”

“It further proves that ICSA are right to call on the EU Commission to follow up on its Unfair Trading Practices proposals with additional legislation to achieve transparency in the food chain. Both consumers and primary producers have a right to see what margins are being made on key staples such as meat, dairy and vegetables. Farmers are constantly being pressurised to prove their sustainability credentials by society and increasingly by retailers. However, it is high time that the focus was put on whether it was sustainable to demand that farmers run faster just to stand still, that they produce more with less and that their incomes should continuously be squeezed.”

“EU consumers want high quality food, with high environmental and animal welfare standards. But this can only be feasible if farmers can make a sustainable margin from farming to EU standards and increasingly demanding retailer standards. We cannot move forward unless we have openness and transparency about how much farmers are contributing to the profits of companies like Tesco, and other retail giants as well as processors. The ability of Tesco to achieve a profit of £1.3 billion sterling is a timely reminder of the need for greater scrutiny and ICSA is demanding that the EU Commission focuses on this.”



12 APRIL 2018

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said he is disappointed that Minister Creed is not moving heaven and earth to introduce a low interest loan scheme for farmers. “Cashflow difficulties are crucifying cattle and sheep farmers who have used up all their credit facilities at this point.” Mr Kent made his comments following a meeting with Minister Michael Creed in Agriculture House today (12 April).

Continuing Mr Kent said, “The latest advice from Teagasc is to get fertiliser out as soon as possible. However, they are failing to understand the true extent of the precarious position many farmers are in. These are farmers who don’t receive a monthly cheque and with credit limits already overshot buying in meal, many are unable to secure credit for fertiliser supplies.”

“Small and medium sized farming enterprises have an immediate need for working capital. ICSA has impressed upon Minister Creed that working capital of up to €10,000 for as many farmers as possible demands urgent consideration if farmers are to have any chance of coming out of this crisis in one piece.”



12 APRIL 2018

ICSA president Patrick Kent has welcomed EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan’s moves today to bring an end to Unfair Trading Practices (UTPs) in the food supply chain. “ICSA has been lobbying extensively for this, both at home and in Europe. The Commissioner’s proposed directive provides a unique opportunity to improve the functioning of the food chain supply to make it fairer by strengthening the bargaining power of small suppliers.”

UTPs set to be outlawed under Commissioner Hogan’s directive includes late payments for perishable food products, last minute order cancellations, unilateral or retroactive changes to contracts & forcing the supplier to pay for wasted product.

Mr Kent said, “This is a very important step on the road in curtailing the greedy practices and excessive profiteering at retail level. However, we need to follow this with legislation to audit the whole retail chain and discern whether there is a fair share of margins allocated to all parts of the chain. We now need to push for more transparency around how the profits from key products like beef, lamb and dairy are shared.”

“For too long retailers have been making huge profits at the expense of primary producers so identifying exactly who gets what profits in the entire food supply chain is essential. I would like to reassure our members that ICSA will be at the forefront of this process to ensure farmers are treated more fairly.”



11 APRIL 2018

ICSA was in Leinster House today to step up pressure for a greater response to the current weather related fodder crisis. Following a meeting with Fianna Fail agriculture spokesperson Charlie McConalogue and FF members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture, ICSA president Patrick Kent outlined the association’s key demands as:

  • The immediate rollout of meal vouchers.
  • The introduction of a low interest loan scheme for small and medium sized farming enterprises for working capital.
  • All outstanding farm scheme payments to be made immediately.
  • Flexibility around the terms of targeted supports such as BDGP and the Sheep Welfare Scheme, including flexibility on inspections.

“ICSA has spelled out in no uncertain terms that meal vouchers for drystock farmers are still vital to alleviating the current hardship. Our members are down to the wire now on fodder and while co-ops are bringing in what they can, their priority is with their own milk suppliers. Cattle and sheep farmers must get equal access to co-op imports of fodder.”

“The provision of low interest loans must be made a priority. We urgently need to deliver working capital to farmers who can’t access any more credit. The situation is particularly acute for cattle and sheep farmers, many of whom are experiencing such difficulties with merchants, co-ops and banks. ICSA wants to see priority given for working capital of up to €10,000 for as many farmers as possible instead of funds being hoovered up by a smaller number of bigger farmers, as has happened in the past.”

“ICSA is also demanding flexibility with regard to the BDGP scheme where farmers have been forced to sell stock which in turn could cause difficulties with the terms of the scheme. Sheep farmers heavily impacted by the snow will also have to be accommodated and leniency will have to be shown to those who have a shortfall in numbers,” Mr Kent said.

ICSA also raised the issue of knackery charges which are extortionate, especially for livestock between the ages of two and four.

The ICSA delegation, which also included ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham and ICSA suckler chairman John Halley, attended the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture hearing in the Dail today. ICSA will also be meeting with Minister Michael Creed tomorrow (Thurs) for further briefing on these issues.



6 APRIL 2018

The amount of stock going into knackeries is double what is normal for this time of year according the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association. ICSA president Patrick Kent said that ICSA has had feedback from licensed knackeries which indicates that the impact of the fodder crisis and the ongoing bad weather since last July is really taking a toll. “Knackeries are flat out collecting dead animals which shows just how bad things are. If the Minister is in any doubt he should talk to the people who are at the coalface of dealing with this crisis. It is clear that the fodder crisis is impacting severely but it is equally the case that even where there is fodder, the long winter and atrocious weather is also leading to increased levels of animal disease such as pneumonia.”

The ICSA president added that it is now time to stop the relentless focus at all costs on increased production and ever higher stocking rates. “This fodder crisis is the second major fodder crisis in five years. With the high stocking rates that have been advocated, everything must go right or there are consequences. We are witnessing those consequences now and with two crises in the last five years, the trend is bound to continue.”

“Systems have been pushed beyond their limits and there is no safety cushion built in for when things go wrong. The wet autumn, the early onset of winter, the snow and late spring have all combined to throw everything out of whack. If it had have been a good year weather wise we might not be in the situation we’re in, but it hasn’t been a good year and farmers can’t cope.”

“There is too much reliance on getting stock out to grass in February particularly in the dairying sector. This is coupled with far too many dairy farmers getting into unmanageable numbers. The farming press needs to reflect on the glorification of farmers who have gone from 60-80 cows to herds of several hundred cows over a few short years. In theory it is grand but as soon as you get bad weather the wheels come off. There is a knock-on impact on all other farmers as the big operators then have to panic buy large quantities of feed at any cost.”

Mr Kent also criticised the Department of Agriculture for failing to react to the crisis sooner. “ICSA has been flagging a fodder catastrophe for months now. It’s not good enough to expect farmers to maximise production to meet overly ambitious export targets and then wash your hands when trouble hits. It’s all been about high input and high output and takes no account of labour or the added stress and pressure it puts farmers under. Advice to get into so many cattle is all well and good, but at the end of the day it’s still a gamble when you can’t control the weather.”

“The next few weeks are bound to be the most difficult of all with little improvement in weather conditions forecast. There can be no doubt this crisis is having an animal welfare impact and farmers no longer want to hear about a transport subsidy that hasn’t worked, they need subsidies to buy feed now. We also have to be very sensitive to the immense mental pressure that many farmers are under and I am calling on the Minister to ensure that all inspectors are directed to avoid doing anything to add to the stress that farmers are under.”