DECISION TO EXCLUDE EXPORTED CATTLE FROM BEEF FINISHER FUND MUST BE REVISITED

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7 AUGUST 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said the decision to exclude exported cattle from the Beef Finisher Payment scheme was a mistake and must be revisited. “Farmers who supplied cattle to fill live export contracts on a slaughter certificate are being unfairly discriminated against by this decision. They are winter finishers who fed cattle and had to contend with the same market difficulties as were faced by others due to Covid-19. Moreover, it is the second time that exports of live cattle have been left out of compensation packages, having also been denied access to BEAM support.”

Mr Graham said, “There needs to be parity, whether cattle go to the factory or go on a boat. ICSA is calling on Minister Calleary to reconsider the Department’s position on this and to allow farmers who exported cattle for slaughter avail of the scheme. I am specifically referring to cattle exported on a slaughter permit. The Department has always been vocal about their support for the live export trade and this would be one way of showing that support in a meaningful way.”

Separately, Mr Graham urged farmers to resist factory price cuts mooted for next week. “Reports are coming in that prices could be back by 5-10c/kg next week. Coming off the back of the announcement regarding the Beef Finisher compensation package this is a cynical move on the part of factories, and farmers should bargain hard for their cattle.”

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ICSA WELCOMES RECONVENING OF TB FORUM

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7 AUGUST 2020

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has welcomed news that Minister Dara Calleary has scheduled a reconvening of the TB Forum for the end of August. “ICSA has been consistently calling for the TB Forum to sit again in order to address the many outstanding issues yet to be finalised, particularly the issues around compensation and the wildlife programme.”

“ICSA understands that Minister Calleary will be attending the meeting and we look forward to working with the Minister ensure the success of TB Eradication Programme,” he said.

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ICSA WELCOMES INCLUSION OF KEY ICSA DEMANDS IN BEEF FINISHER SCHEME

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6 AUGUST 2020

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has given a guarded welcome to announcement on the Beef Finisher scheme which is in line with the ICSA submission to target funds towards winter finishers. “The scheme is set to deliver at least €100 per animal, slaughtered between 1 February and 12 June 2020, subject to a limit of 100 animals.”

“We are pleased that the scheme has delivered key asks from ICSA. A provision is included which should have the effect of delivering money to farmers who sold animals in the mart and which were subsequently slaughtered within 30 days. We also are pleased that there is no de-stocking clause. However, farmers have to be either a member of the Quality Assurance Scheme or else committed to joining before 30 September. Factory owned animals are not eligible, again a key demand from ICSA.”

“ICSA is not happy that live exported cattle do not seem to be mentioned and we will be seeking urgent clarification on this.”

“Overall, the inclusion of finished animals over eight months of age which includes suckler cows is in line with what we lobbied for and we welcome the announcement. It is clear that winter finishers have needed a break after several disastrous years and this will help the suckler farmer indirectly when it comes to having more buyers around the ring for autumn sales.”

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ICSA CALLS FOR URGENT REVIEW OF DECISION ON BANAGHER BEEF INVESTORS UNDER IMMIGRANT INVESTOR PROGRAMME

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30 JULY 2020

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has called on the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to urgently review the baffling decision to refuse an application from investors under the Immigrant Investor Programme, which confers residency rights. The investors in question are planning to establish a beef exporting business in Banagher, Co Offaly which would be of huge strategic benefit to the long-suffering beef farming sector.

“I am appalled that the committee took it on themselves to determine that getting a meat plant up and running, with a specific objective of building exports to Asia, was somehow contrary to Government policy. This is a totally unacceptable decision which undermines competition in a sector where farmers are utterly frustrated at the closed shop nature of beef processing. The committee has gone well beyond its remit in referring to Government policy to rationalise beef processing.”

“First, it should be recalled that the CCPC (Competition Authority) actually opposed the Bids programme which was an orchestrated effort to reduce processing capacity in the beef sector. This plan was found to be contrary to EU Competition law by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2008. It is therefore not only outrageous but actually wrong for an unaccountable committee tasked with allocating residency rights to make pronouncements on Government policy when such pronouncements clearly are at odds with a decision of the ECJ.”

“In any event, the Immigrant Investor Programme does not set out any requirement that investments are to be scrutinised against subjective views of ever-changing Government policy. If there was provision to insist that only investments which align with Government policy were to be considered, then surely the most up to date and relevant policy is that several Ministers for Agriculture have put major effort into opening up the market in China and other Asian countries for beef exports. It is a clear Government policy to develop new beef export markets in light of the threat to the UK market posed by Brexit uncertainty.”

“The reality is that the proposed investment has received planning approval from Offaly County Council. The investment is of the order of €40 million which is a multiple of the minimum required under the Immigrant Investor Programme and could lead to 150 permanent jobs in a region where job opportunities are very scarce. Most importantly, farmers will be very angry if this investment is hindered in any way, given the desperate need for new markets and better demand for beef cattle.”

“Ireland is a country which has rightly welcomed many immigrants in recent years, and it would be a spectacular own goal if some committee specifically chose to make immigrants with the ability to make a €40 million investment unwelcome. ICSA is calling on Minister McEntee to deal with this urgently.”

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ICSA LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF SHEEP TASKFORCE

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30 JULY 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has launched the association’s campaign for the establishment of a Sheep Taskforce at an ICSA National Executive meeting in Portlaoise last night (29 July). “ICSA brought the need for a dedicated Sheep Taskforce to the attention of Minister Calleary at our meeting with him last week. Sheep exports were worth €294m in 2019, yet the sector is not receiving the attention it deserves and sheep farmers are fed up of being a political afterthought. ICSA believes the need for a dedicated Sheep Taskforce is clear; the sector must be properly acknowledged, and the future viability of sheep farmers must be addressed.”

Continuing Mr McNamara said, “It is unacceptable that sheep farmers have been left out of any Covid compensation packages. Likewise, despite repeated calls from ICSA, there has been no BEAM type scheme for sheep farmers to compensate for Brexit related market fluctuations. It is wholly unfair that aid has been targeted solely at the beef and dairy sectors while sheep farmers, those with the lowest incomes by far, are left out.”

“Transparency along the food chain is also equally important for sheep farmers. We need to ensure that any appointed Food Ombudsman has oversight over the trade in sheep meat, particularly when it comes to the huge volumes of lambs being imported into the country and the impact that it has on local farmers. We need to shine a light on who is making all the profit along the food chain, and why sheep farmers are not being paid enough to cover their cost of production.”

Specifically, ICSA is calling on the Department of Agriculture to provide;

  • Weekly reports on the number of lambs imported, and from where.
  • Full transparency around which markets these imported lambs are servicing.
  • A comprehensive explanation on how farmers can be assured these lambs are not being sold as Origin Green lambs.
  • An outline of the veterinary protocols imposed and traceability requirements on all lambs at the point of export before they come to Irish meat factories.

“Pressure has also been mounting on sheep farmers with the total collapse of the wool trade. Prices have dipped as low as 5c/kg for wool that costs €2.50-€3.00 a head to shear. As a result, many farmers have been left with no choice but to dump wool over the last several months which is a travesty when you consider all the uses it could potentially be put to, e.g. insulation, fertilizer, textiles etc. Wool needs to be recognised as a precious and valuable natural resource and the Sheep Taskforce could play a pivotal role in devising a strategy that would revive the wool industry in this country and harness its true potential.”

“The Sheep Welfare Scheme is also coming to an end and a lot of thought must be put into how the scheme can be improved going forward. The scheme does need considerable new investment and ICSA is proposing that an increased payment of €30 per ewe could be achieved with the addition of several bolt-on measures to the scheme. Through the Sheep Taskforce a consensus on the introduction of additional tasks could be reached to justify such an increase, and ensure greater viability for the sector.”

Concluding Mr McNamara said, “It is time for Minister Calleary to bring the stakeholders together, establish a Sheep Taskforce, and take on these challenges.”

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ICSA MAKES THE CASE FOR BEEF REGULATOR, SHEEP TASKFORCE, SUCKLER PGI & BIGGER REPS SCHEME IN MEETING WITH MINISTER CALLEARY

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24 JULY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has set out a comprehensive agenda for the cattle and sheep sectors in his first meeting with Minister Dara Calleary this morning. “Key ICSA demands include a regulator to permanently oversee the beef chain, a Sheep Taskforce to find solutions to low wool prices and provide accountability on lamb imports, PGI status exclusively for sucklers and a commitment to a REPS scheme with treble the funding of the current GLAS.”

“Our presentation to the Minister was very focused on the difficulties faced by cattle and sheep farmers. In particular, ICSA wants to ensure that our demand for a regulator for the beef food chain is delivered. ICSA first proposed this in 2014 and then brought it to Europe when we outlined the injustices of the food chain to Commissioner Hogan who undertook to do something about unfair trading practices. It is now time to turn this vision into reality and establish a regulator with real power to audit and investigate what goes on in the food chain. Robust and effective regulation is long overdue.”   

“While ICSA outlined the unsustainability of current beef prices, we made a strong case for the €50 million beef finisher fund to be targeted at winter beef finishers who have been hardest hit by poor prices. ICSA believes that payment should be on up to 200 animals for family farms but that factory owned feedlots should get nothing.”

With the announcement of a reduced CAP budget this week, ICSA sought a commitment from Minister Calleary to push for additional exchequer funds for the farming sector. “This is crucial if we are serious about playing our part in the new EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies, of which a new REPS type scheme would form a vital part. ICSA has calculated that an annual budget of €750m, or three times the current GLAS budget, is the minimum required if we are sincere about getting real results and rewarding farmers for their role.” 

“Minister Calleary must also ensure the continuation of the Organics Scheme as a matter of urgency. The EU wide target of 25% (in terms of the area farmed) to be set aside for organic farming by 2030 makes it clear we need to do so much more when it comes to organics.” 

Further, ICSA outlined the need to pursue a dedicated EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for suckler beef. “ICSA is adamant suckler beef must be developed and promoted as a unique high value product. We believe the current position of looking for PGI status for all beef is the wrong approach as it would do nothing to ensure the viability of the struggling suckler sector.” 

ICSA also called on the Minister to establish a Sheep Taskforce with a remit to tackle all ongoing issues in the sheep sector. “It is clear the sector has greater potential, but that potential is being wasted through the lack of any specific Covid support for sheep farmers, inadequate supports through the Sheep Welfare Scheme, the lack of transparency around large volumes of sheep imports as well as the complete collapse of wool prices. It is time for Minister Calleary to bring all relevant stakeholders together to take on these challenges and see to it that there is a future for sheep farming in this country.” 

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ICSA CALLS ON MINISTER TO FINALISE OUTSTANDING TB FORUM ISSUES BEFORE CHANGING TB PROGRAMME

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22 JULY 2020

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said Minister Calleary must insist that no new measures or decisions on the TB programme should be announced in the absence of agreement on outstanding issues from the TB Forum. “The latest move by the Department is the introduction of a new coding system that would categorise herds based on their TB history, and is simply the continuation of a strategy to change the TB regime in line with their own wishes while ignoring all of the requests put forward by farmer representatives,” he said.

“ICSA has always been adamant that farmers who have recovered from a past TB breakdown should not be further penalised by finding themselves at a disadvantage when selling stock. The concern is that farmers who had even a single reactor in previous years but who now were clear of TB could potentially find themselves unable to sell stock or else be forced to take a hugely discounted price.”

“The message that this gives is that the current controls do not work. Why should a farmer undergo the pressure of two clear herd tests if the message is now that this farmer’s cattle are not to be trusted? Either the two clear tests is a worthwhile measure of eliminating TB from a herd or it is not. And if it is not, why are we doing two tests?”

“Farmers already lack confidence in the testing programme as none of the tests have proven 100% accurate, and many farmers have been left frustrated with delays in having sample lesions cultured. Rather than imposing more hardship on farmers, ICSA wants to see a renewed focus on badger testing and culling as well as significant action on controlling the spread of TB by diseased wild deer. Moreover, there are still many outstanding questions on the critical issue of compensation levels.”

“Unless these issues are dealt with, it is unacceptable to drive on implementing the bits of the TB Forum that the Department likes while ignoring the real issues brought to the table by farmer representatives. I am calling on Minister Calleary to face up in a fair and balanced way to all of the issues around the TB programme. The only way to deliver real results is with a programme that has the buy-in of all farmers.”

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HARD TO SEE HOW FARMERS CAN DO IT ALL WITH REDUCED CAP FUNDING

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21 JULY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said that this morning’s agreement on EU funding was “necessary to provide economic certainty but it is very hard to see how farmers can do all they are being asked in the context of significantly reduced CAP funding.”

“The whole process has been complicated immeasurably by the Covid crisis. The Next Generation EU (NGEU) fund of €750 billion, of which €390 billion is grant aid, is very necessary to underpin EU economic recovery. However, the farming sector is not getting a fair share particularly with the last minute halving of the recovery support for the rural development budget which was meant to be €15 billion and is now coming in at €7.5 billion.”

“I welcome the confirmation of a €5 billion Brexit fund which will be targeted at areas particularly impacted by Brexit and it is essential that the Irish government fights tooth and nail to get a substantial allocation from this given that Irish agriculture is directly in the firing line from Brexit.”

“ICSA is disappointed that the overall EU budget of €1,074 billion for the period 2021-27 is well down on the initial EU Commission proposals in 2018 for a budget of €1,135 billion. Even that figure was a significant cut on the previous budget. The consequence now is that CAP funding will average just under €51 billion per annum in constant 2018 prices (or a total of just over €356 billion for the seven years) compared with a 2021 budget of €55.2 billion. It is inconceivable how farmers are expected to provide so many additional public goods in terms of climate and biodiversity on an ever decreasing funding regime. EU leaders have talked the talk on a Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy, but they have not walked the walk on funding it.”

“ICSA believes that the Irish Government is now going to have to stump up more exchequer funds if it is serious about the farming sector, as well as being aggressive about getting a fair share of the NGEU fund. The additional fund for rural development will be worth an additional €300 million and with exchequer co-financing this could put an additional €100 million per annum into a new REPS scheme. ICSA has already argued that the proposal to put €1.5 billion of carbon tax into a REPS type scheme needs to be more ambitious and should be allocated across the period of the Rural Development Programme rather than 10 years as suggested in the programme for government. There is a lot of scope for higher levels of national co-funding of the Rural Development Programme and ICSA will be pushing the new government very hard to deliver on this.”

“Overall, the agreement this morning brings clarity to the EU budget and it means that it is now game on to get a CAP reform agreed. Given the decisions made today, a lot of creative thinking will be required to protect the interests of Irish cattle and sheep farmers,” concluded Mr Phelan.

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ICSA WELCOMES MINISTER DARA CALLEARY AND REITERATES KEY PRIORITIES

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15 JULY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed the appointment of Dara Calleary as Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine. “ICSA looks forward to forging a strong working relationship with Minister Calleary with a focus on delivering economic sustainability to cattle and sheep farmers along with environmental benefits to all.”

“ICSA is adamant that a suckler based application for EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is vital for the survival of that sector. Suckler beef must be developed and promoted as a special high value product it is vital to farmers in the west of Ireland especially the Ministers own constituency, and ICSA will be vigorously opposing the inclusion of all beef in the pursuit of such a protected status.”

“As a priority, the Minister must deliver total transparency in the food chain and ensure that neither processor nor retailer can abuse their dominant positions. To this end ICSA is insisting the promised Food Ombudsman is installed without delay. Farmers are continuously striving to be more efficient but every incremental gain in efficiency is stolen by an unregulated processing and retailing sector driving down farmgate price, and this must change.”

“A new REPS type scheme is also a must. ICSA is calling for a trebling of the current GLAS budget to facilitate such a scheme, given the numbers of farmers it would hope to attract. An annual budget of €750m, or three times the current GLAS budget, would be the minimum required. It is no longer acceptable to expect farmers to do more on climate change without the resources to do so.”

“A new and improved Sheep Welfare Scheme must also be a top of the agenda for the Minister. The scheme is coming to an end and we must have something in place to replace it. However, it is clear the funding will need to be significantly increased from 2021 onwards. The sheep sector has not been supported enough and viability within the sector has become a major issue and can no longer be ignored.”

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MINISTER COWEN MUST COMMIT TO NEW ORGANICS SCHEME

10 JULY 2020

ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne has called on the Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen to give an assurance that the Organics Scheme will roll over into 2021. “Ireland now has over 1,700 organic farmers and the focus must be on building those numbers. The current Organics Scheme comes to an end for most participants at the end of this year, and ICSA is looking for a commitment that the scheme will continue and be improved upon,” he said.

“The Organics sector needs considerable new investment if it is to expand in any meaningful way. 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 so much more when it comes to Organics.”

“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 cattle and sheep farmers were side-lined. ICSA does not want to see a repeat of this, and all farmers prepared to make the switch to organic farming must be facilitated through a new and improved Organics Scheme.”

ICSA is proposing that increasing the payment per hectare to €250 is warranted for full symbol Organic farmers, with a conversion payment of €300/ha for those transitioning to organics. “This would both encourage farmers to switch their systems and give them the best opportunity to succeed with the scheme.”

ICSA also wants to ensure that actions in any future REPS type scheme do not overlap with actions in the Organics Scheme. “This could result in farmers having to choose between the two schemes and would be detrimental in the long run. Organic farmers must be given equal opportunity to join REPS and get paid for both schemes.”

The protein premium for whole crop beans of €100/acre must also be revisited. “The current payment for protein crops is too limiting and out of step with the current practices of organic farmers. ICSA is proposing that both mixed cropping and combi crops with pea, barley and oat mixes are included under protein payments.”

“All of these efforts must be underpinned by a strategy to further develop markets for organic produce. Consumer studies across Europe suggest that the market opportunity is far greater than the size of the supply. There can be no justification for a country that prides itself on its Origin Green strategy to be such an under performer in the Organics sector.”

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