ICSA WELCOMES PASSING OF ANTI-FRACKING BILL

2 JUNE 2017

 -WE NEED TO FOCUS ON RENEWABLES WHICH CAN TRANSFORM OUTLOOK FOR AGRICULTURE & RURAL COMMUNITIES

ICSA president Patrick Kent has welcomed news that a bill banning fracking in Ireland has now passed through all stages of the Dáil. Commenting on the impending ban Mr Kent said, “Fracking offers no tangible benefits to landowners or rural communities. It provides no upside for farmers but potentially a lot of downside in terms of our clean, green food image. Instead, we need the Government to strongly favour renewable energy sources which can bring multiple benefits to farmers, the environment and to rural communities while also helping the economy and climate change objectives.”

“Food production is very vulnerable at present particularly since the Brexit vote and in light of the need for a revision of the targets to expand agri-food exports to €19 billion set out in Food Wise 2025 given that livestock, cereals, dairy are all struggling to find sufficient markets that can pay a viable price. Countries and regions where there are multiple uses for agricultural land are standing out as places where farmers see hope for the future. We cannot allow agriculture in Europe to be a one trick pony dependent on greedy retailers. Nor can we assume that faraway international markets will be the panacea for all ills.”

“In practical terms, this means Government support for sustainable biofuels across Europe, anaerobic digestion in Ireland and sensible policies to give certainty to plans for solar farms. There is a compelling case to support the use of biofuels from crops grown in Europe which also provide very positive benefits in terms of animal feeds as a by-product.”

“ICSA is fighting for a smart approach to agriculture policy which provides farmers with multiple income sources including benefitting from renewables which could transform the outlook for farmers and rural communities which is going to need strong political leadership at national and EU level,” concluded Mr Kent.

The Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016 will now go forward to the Seanad for examination, after which it will become law.

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TEAGASC FARM SURVEY SHOWS DAIRY FARMERS STILL BETTER OFF, EVEN IN 2016 – ICSA

2 JUNE 2017

The stand out result from the Teagasc 2016 National Farm survey is that dairy farming still delivered an average income of almost €52,000 in a year supposedly one of the worst in living memory for dairying. Commenting on the survey results ICSA president Patrick Kent said “On a per hectare basis, the income of €924 for dairying was twice the income for tillage and beef farmers, two and half times better than suckling and three times the sheep income per hectare.”

“The figures call into question the prioritisation of dairying by Brussels who jumped hoops to provide crisis funding for dairying while remaining laid back about the struggles faced by cattle, sheep and tillage farmers. At least the Minister for Agriculture here used the funds for a loan scheme available for all farming sectors but it is clear that dairying is the only sector where income supports are not vital. In fact, the results demonstrate loud and clear that the focus of CAP supports for both pillars will have to be re-focused to a much greater extent on low income sectors.”

“With the recovery in milk price, it is likely that income figures for dairying will power ahead in 2017 again but the cattle, sheep and tillage sectors have no prospect of significant improvement. Annual incomes averaging as low as €16,011 for sheep farmers and a paltry €12,908 for suckler farmers offer evidence of the stark reality for the majority of our cattle and sheep farmers.”

“The evidence is clear that farmers are getting far too little share of the margins from the food chain. Now, more than ever, there is simply no room for processors and retailers to keep squeezing cattle and sheep producers on price when the stark reality is the vast majority of such farms would generate no income without direct EU supports. We also need a strategy at EU level to improve the position of tillage farmers at a time when global cereal inventories are at an all-time high. This is not just about CAP supports but also about a sensible strategy on increasing rather than decreasing demand for crop based biofuels grown in Europe.”

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ICSA WELCOMES DAIL MOTION FOR CHANGES TO FAIR DEAL SCHEME

1 JUNE 2017

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has welcomed a Dáil motion brought forward by the Rural Independents Group which demands urgent changes to the Fair Deal Scheme for farmers and the self-employed. Speaking following a meeting with members of the Rural Independents Group Mr Sherlock said “We just want farmers to be treated like everyone else.”

“My experience is that many farmers are suffering alone and in silence as committing to the Fair Deal scheme could eventually lead to the sale of their farm to pay for nursing home fees. This is simply too high a price to contemplate in the eyes of many farmers. In reality these men and women are putting the viability of future farming generations before their own well-being. It is the position of ICSA that this is a decision neither our ageing farmers nor their families should be forced to make.”

“ICSA believes that the three year cap on assessing assets that applies to family homes should also apply to farms. We also support reducing the time an asset needs to be transferred prior to entering a nursing home from five to three years. ICSA believe that reform of the Fair Deal Scheme has been long fingered for too long and we want action now. The Fair Deal needs to be fair for everyone.”

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ICSA SLAMS ULSTER BANK 1% CHARGE ON LOW INTEREST LOAN SCHEME

24 MAY 2017

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has slammed Ulster Bank for profiteering on the agricultural cash flow support loan scheme. Mr Sherlock said that he was shocked to learn that Ulster Bank are charging a 1% set up fee for farmers availing of the special 2.95% interest rate.

“This scheme is providing €150 million in low interest loans to farmers sourced from the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. Critically, the Government has leveraged some €11 million of EU exceptional adjustment aid with exchequer funds of €14 million, which provides an interest subsidy of €25 million. The EU funds were specifically allocated to benefit farmers in the light of the commodity price crash in 2016 and the exchequer top-up was meant to amplify this support.

“The strategic decision taken by Minister Creed to put this money in as a subsidy for low interest loans was a very deliberate effort to get the maximum benefit to farmers who are struggling with cash flow and merchant credit issues. The spirit of this was that the 2.95% interest rate coupled with the interest subsidy means that banks should have adequate margin without resorting to additional creaming off of money from farmers.”

“ICSA welcomes the fact that Bank of Ireland and AIB are happy to operate the scheme without recourse to additional charges but we are very disappointed with Ulster Bank on this. If all banks had taken this approach, it would have amounted to some €1.5 million taken as extra profit out of farmers’ pockets when the total actual support is €25 million. As it stands, the fact is that this will cost Ulster Bank customers some €300,000 extra which is coming from farmers who by definition are under pressure on the cash flow front.”

“It is important to note that the huge demand and very tight timeframe for this scheme meant that, realistically, farmers had no potential to shop around and therefore were a sitting duck for this egregious charge.”

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ICSA ALARMED AT NEWS OF LESS COMPETITION IN THE BEEF SECTOR

 24 MAY 2017

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan has said he is very anxious about further consolidation of the beef trade in the hands of the big three following news that Dawn Meats is to acquire Dunbia. “Decreasing competition in the meat processing sector is bad news for farmers. This deal will only serve to increase the all-powerful and dominant position of this small circle of players. Farmers struggle on a daily basis to get a fair price for their cattle from factories, this is just going to weaken their position even further,” he said.

“It proves once again that the only hope for the beef sector in this country is competition between live exports and factories. ICSA wants to see more support for the live trade from Minister Creed to give farmers that added option when selling their cattle. It is now more apparent than ever that it is the only show in town to deliver badly needed relief to hard pressed cattle farmers.”

“The only other hope would be for processors to try to use their increasing dominance to push for higher prices from retailers when beef is scarce rather than driving down price to farmers when beef is plentiful. However, the evidence is factories are increasingly using their own feedlots to undermine independent farmers making a profit.”

 

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ICSA AGREES WITH FINDING ON LACK OF HELP BEING A MAJOR RISK IN FARM SAFETY

24 MAY 2017

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said an ESRI report on “Risk-taking and Accidents on Irish Farms” has captured an essential truth that a major risk factor is the lack of adequate help for performing difficult tasks. Mr Kent said that this should cause reflection among public representatives and agencies who have tended to ascribe the blame for farm safety issues on farmers.

“We have seen examples of this in terms of hysterical calls to cut farm subsidies or to impose fines, when in fact this would further exacerbate a root cause which is that farmers can neither afford nor find extra help on farms particularly at busy times.”

ICSA has frequently warned that the pressure being put on farmers to run faster to stand still cannot continue without adverse consequences. “We see the madness of farmers expanding stock numbers significantly without any real understanding of how all the extra work can be performed. The traditional sixty cow dairy farm which used to deliver a good standard of living is derided as small scale. Worse still is that most cattle and sheep farms are no longer viable and can only be sustained by off-farm work.”

“So how does a farmer get the extra help for difficult tasks when many of his neighbours are gone by day working the off-farm job and rushing to catch up in the evenings when they come home. Meanwhile the Farm Relief Services are unable to keep up with the demand for help at busy times. We also have to confront the question how can a farm where viability is measured as giving the farmer the minimum agricultural wage hire extra help when it simply isn’t possible to hire competent help at the minimum wage any more in many parts of the country?

With more and more family members abandoning rural areas to work in the cities, the traditional source of help is drying up and the age profile of farmers is getting worse by the year. I would seriously question the finding that age was not closely linked to farm safety when we see years where over 25% of fatalities involve farmers who are past retirement age in other sectors.”

Mr Kent did however take exception to the report’s findings that work stress was not a significant factor in whether farmers were more likely to engage in risky behaviour. “This flies in the face of logic and what ICSA is hearing on the ground. We know that farmers are working very long hours with little or no help just to stay afloat and break even. It is our experience that stress and the pressure associated with low incomes are indeed risk factors as far as farming health and safety are concerned. Moreover, farm safety studies are detached from stress related illness and mortality such as heart attacks, cancers and suicide. Of course it is difficult to link such outcomes solely to stress as other factors can be involved but it is important to keep the debate in context as premature death on a farm is tragic regardless of cause.”

Mr Kent lamented some media reports which zoned in on protective clothing such as high-vis vests. While this is included in the ESRI report, it is not the conclusion of the report that this is the major issue. Mr Kent added that we must not get carried away with the notion that there are simple quick fix solutions based on practices in industry or other sectors.

“With farmers working alone, it is dubious that a high-vis vest would mitigate much risk and it is hard to know what use a high-vis vest is with a recently calved cow. If anything it could add to the risk.”

“The key point is that health and safety solutions in other sectors are essentially designed around multiple person teams working in close proximity to the public whether on building sites, in factories or public services. It is very hard to transfer this to single operators on isolated farms dealing with unpredictable animals and unpredictable events such as calving and whether. It is clear that we need a major examination of the squeezing of farm margins by processors and retailers coupled with the scarcity of labour and how this is impacting on farm safety. You can’t continually demand that an aging work force works harder and faster for less return and then express shock that farm safety is compromised.”

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ICSA WARNS AGAIST UNFAIR BPS PENALTIES FOR FIRE DAMAGED LANDS

18 MAY 2017

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has questioned the legality of penalising farmers through the Basic Payment Scheme whose land has been burned unless there is absolute proof that the farmer was guilty of causing the fire.

“It is abundantly clear that the rapid spread of fires in recent weeks means that the majority of farmers had no hand, act or part in the burning and were in fact, victims of collateral damage caused by the carelessness or recklessness of a few. In fact, we have no proof that any farmer deliberately started a fire.”

Mr Sherlock was speaking following a statement by Minister of State Andrew Doyle that satellite imagery would be examined to identify land as burnt illegally which would then be deemed ineligible under the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme and other land based schemes.

Mr Sherlock said “Fires are caused by a variety of reasons and can spread into parcels of land owned by many individuals. There is the potential that a cohort of farmers will face penalties through no fault of their own. The Basic Payment is too important an income source to be raided in this manner.”

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ICSA ATTACKS TESCO SPRING LAMB PROMOTION AS UNSUSTAINABLE FOR FARMERS

15 MAY 2017

ICSA sheep chairman John Brooks has attacked Tesco for undermining premium spring lamb producers by offloading spring lamb at unsustainably low prices in shops.

“Tesco is currently selling leg of spring lamb at a ridiculously low price of €8.69/kg. This can only be described as below cost selling. This will have the effect of putting farmers out of business. ICSA is calling for this practice to stop immediately. Farmers need at least €7/kg for high cost early spring lamb systems and allowing for processing costs, it is clear that a retail price of €8.69/kg is unsustainable. Meanwhile, retailers seem to have no problem getting €33/kg for farmed salmon.”

“Spring lamb has to be marketed as a premium product. This puts it way below the cost of most steak cuts and much closer to mince price.”

Tesco needs to understand that early lamb production is a complex and high cost system. “Spring lamb producers excelled as usual. They carefully planned lambing dates /sale dates, cared for their flock pre and post lambing at a time of year when you have long winter nights and feed costs are at a maximum in order to have a premium product ready for Easter and early summer.”

“It’s now the time of year when early spring lamb producers are calculating their losses from their enterprise. After all this work the industry cheats us by paying a bad price and introducing spurious weight limits.”

“Early spring lamb producers need a minimum of €7/kg and a realistic weight limit of 22kgs in order to leave farmers with a small profit margin.”

This year the industry colluded to ensure the price barely exceeded €6/kg and the meat industry imposed a spurious weight limit as low as 20kgs.

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ICSA CRITICAL OF RENEWED THREAT OF COMPULSORY PURCHASE ORDERS FOR CYCLE ROUTES

15 MAY 2017

ICSA Galway representative Adrian Kelly has said that Minister Shane Ross is reneging on his commitment to roll out a comprehensive consultation process on how to deliver cycling infrastructure in this country. Mr Kelly said: “At our meeting with Minister Ross and Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan in January to discuss the pathway forward for the Athlone to Clifden section of the National Cycle Network, it was our clear understanding with the Ministers that no further attempts to force cycle routes through private property would occur and that the only way to develop this cycling project was through proper consultation and consent.”

Mr Kelly made his comments following recent revelations that up to 130 Kerry landowners could potentially be subject to Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) to facilitate the South Kerry “Greenway”. These developments in Kerry have increased the concerns of landowners in Connemara that Galway County Council will use similar tactics to force a cycle route through their farms. The Council’s proposal to construct a cycle route through environmentally sensitive areas while ignoring other more environmentally friendly and acceptable alternatives flies in the face of all logic. “ICSA has long since considered that proper consultation and cooperation amongst all parties was the only way to progress the cycleway”. ICSA welcomes the work that the group “Galway Cycling Solutions” has done over the past eighteen months in identifying these alternative routes.

“The Ministers acknowledged that the previous top down approach to the project which essentially ignored the feelings of local landowners and local communities was a failure, yet the promise of proper consultation has so far failed to materialise. The preparation of CPO orders by Kerry County Council lays down the template for how Connemara and Galway farmers are likely to be treated regarding this issue. It’s a very worrying development and amounts to concerned landowners being thrown under the bus for a non-critical infrastructure project.”

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ICSA MEETS TURKISH AMBASSADOR TO DISCUSS THE POTENTIAL FOR INCREASED LIVE EXPORTS TO TURKEY

5 MAY 2017

A senior delegation of ICSA officials today met with the Ambassador to Turkey, His Excellency Levent Murat Burhan, at the Turkish Embassy in Dublin. The purpose of the meeting was to explore the potential for increasing live exports to Turkey, including the potential to expand the market to include heavier cattle than the typical 300kg limit.

Speaking following the meeting ICSA president Patrick Kent said “There is currently huge demand for beef in Turkey due to the sheer size of the population. ICSA is pushing to further tap into that demand by increasing the numbers of cattle we are shipping live, which includes the opportunity to ship heavier cattle. Irish beef beef farmers in this country need to have the option of live shipping, indeed it has never been more imperative to have this option.”

Mr Kent said the delegation also discussed the issue of animal welfare standards once cattle arrive in Turkey. Mr Kent said “The Ambassador assured us they were fully committed to the highest possible standards. The Ambassador said Turkish farmers take huge pride in taking great care of their cattle.”

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