ICSA anger at revival of EU beneficiaries list

17th September, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has expressed disbelief that the EU Commission is reviving the discredited policy of publishing the names and amounts of EU supports received by each farmer.  Previously, the EU Commission had obliged member states to publish the amounts received by each farmer but in November 2010 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had thrown this out as “partially invalid” because it failed to balance the rights of individuals against the objectives of transparency.  

Mr Gilmartin said, “It is unbelievable that the EU Commission is going back to this discredited invasion of privacy and it shows a complete contempt for the ECJ.  It is amazing that when an ECJ decision has negative implications for farmers, member states and the Commission jump over hoops to enforce the decision but when the ECJ goes in favour of farmers the Commission bends over backwards to circumvent it.”

“While the Commission is apparently making some concession for those receiving less than a €1000, the fundamentals of what they are at remain the same.  It is therefore a complete attack on the decision of the ECJ.”  

“Minister Coveney needs to come out immediately to oppose this.  If this goes through, then surely equity demands that all social welfare recipients and the amount they receive should also be published.”

ICSA “hugely disappointed” at failure to scrap slurry deadline

12th September, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gilmartin, says he is “hugely disappointed” that the deadline for the spreading of slurry has not been abolished altogether, rather than simply extended.    

It emerged today that the closing dates for both slurry and fertiliser spreading have been pushed back by two weeks.  The last day for spreading fertiliser is now September 29th; while for slurry it’s now October 29th.  

Mr. Gilmartin said, “As ICSA has pointed out repeatedly, the abnormal level of rainfall seen in most parts of Ireland over the past few months has made farming exceptionally difficult this year.  The extension of the deadline for spreading fertiliser will probably be sufficient and I welcome that; however I am hugely disappointed that the Government has not seen fit to take the bull by the horns and fight for the abolition of “calendar farming,” which, in present circumstances, would mean going against best farming practice, i.e. forcing farmers to spread slurry on land that is not fit in order to comply with bureaucracy.”

“Year after year, weather conditions have led to the slurry deadline being extended; and year after year ICSA has called for the deadline to be abolished instead.  The continuing pattern of deadlines being extended as a direct result of the weather should have indicated to the legislators by now that they simply cannot ignore the fact that farming decisions must be guided by prevailing conditions, not dates on a calendar,” Mr. Gilmartin continued.  

“In fact, I would like to invite the Ministers for Agriculture and Environment to come out and see the state of Irish land for themselves.  Perhaps then they would realise the seriousness of the situation many farmers find themselves in and take action to get rid of the ridiculous notion of “calendar farming.”

ICSA calls for reassurance on winter finishers from factories

10th September, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association beef chairman, Edmond Phelan, said that beef factories are going to have to confront the reality that winter finishers will need better reassurances on beef price for the New Year if they are to fill sheds.  

Mr. Phelan said, “Escalating ration costs, along with costly and lower quality silage, means that the economics of winter finishing have rarely looked so grim.  The problem is magnified by recent price cuts at a time when all other key EU beef producing countries are seeing prices creep up.  Farmers will need price to come up 50c if there is to be any margin from winter finishing this year.”

ICSA organises fodder relief initiative for West Cork

5th September, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association has organised the delivery of several loads of straw and silage bales from the midlands and east of the country to a number of farmers in west Cork, who have been particularly badly hit by the disastrous weather over the past few months.  The delivery of the bales took place on Monday, 3rd of September, at Togher Cross and Bantry.  

The cost of the operation is being subsidised by ICSA, with a contribution being made by the farmers receiving the bales.  The bales themselves are being provided either at cost price or at no cost, and the transport is being provided at a low cost also.  

The initiative came about following a visit last week to west Cork by ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin who called on some of the worst hit farms in the more marginal land in the region.  The ICSA leader also attended a public meeting in Dunmanway last Wednesday night, organised by ICSA West Cork chairman Dermot Kelleher.

“This is a very special initiative where farmers are going the extra mile to help out fellow farmers who under enormous pressure because of the weather.  Last week, I visited a number of farms in west Cork and what I saw there were serious situations.”

“Rather than wait for outside help or seek funds which are unlikely to materialise, we in ICSA decided to step in and deliver practical help, because action is what’s needed at this point in time, not just words,” said Mr. Gilmartin.  

Chair of West Cork ICSA, Dermot Kelleher, added, “In some cases, cattle have been inside for weeks because of the ground conditions and not a single blade of grass has been cut for silage, because the machinery simply can’t go into the fields.”

“This is putting unbelievable pressure on farmers and their families and that’s why ICSA felt something practical had to be done to relieve the pressure immediately.”

“The deliveries are being targeted at farmers who have little or no winter feed due to being unable to cut any or who have already fed it all.  We are also trying to ensure that supplies go to farmers who are in a bad way with grazing conditions on marginal land and where other viable income sources are not available,” he explained.  

“ICSA would welcome support from any farmers who feel that they may be able to help,” concluded Mr Kelleher, who is also the ICSA national suckler committee chairman.

Gilmartin says calendar farming ‘nonsense’ must end

4th September, 2012

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, has described the plethora of strict deadlines and closing dates imposed on vital farming activities as “nonsense”, and says the concept of farming by calendar dates must come to an end.  

Mr. Gilmartin recently visited a number of farms in the West Cork region, which have been particularly badly affected as a result of the huge rainfall levels seen in the past few months.  He said this bad weather has brought the issue to the forefront and is now more critical than ever.  “The rainfall there has been nothing short of catastrophic for farming.  It has made the ordinary, everyday business of running a farm exceptionally difficult, and this is being made all the worse by the looming deadlines for the likes of spreading slurry and fertilizer.  It’s gone beyond a simple extension of the deadlines.  What we need now is for the legislators to realise that the rules are making a tough job impossible, and that farmers need to be able to do their work as and when the weather and ground conditions allow.”

“Fodder shortage is a huge problem in some parts of the country, and we in ICSA have pledged to help those in need as much as we can.  We have already organised and subsidised the delivery of bales of straw to struggling farmers in West Cork.  However, the shortage of silage is only the tip of the iceberg this year.  The cost of concentrates is going up, the price of cattle is falling, and there is serious concern about the impact the weather is having on being able to meet cross-compliance requirements.”

“On top of all that is the mental pressure this is putting on farmers and their families.  The weather will improve eventually, and farmers will be able to go about their business – but we don’t know when that will be.  What I’m saying now is that farmers have to be given the flexibility to do what they can, when they can, and that means the authorities must grasp farming reality, and throw out the ridiculous concept of calendar farming.”

ICSA says more live export opportunities must be sought out

27th August, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association beef committee chairman, Edmond Phelan, says there is an urgent need for more live exports for Irish cattle, given that domestic prices have taken a significant hit in recent weeks.  

Mr. Phelan said, “Prices for beef have spiralled downwards in the last four to six weeks – so much so that many beef producers have seen their profit margins almost completely eroded.  Irish prices are now up to €300 per head behind British prices.  The main reason for this is that the extremely bad weather has given farmers very little choice but to sell their cattle; the factories know this and are taking advantage of the fact by cutting prices dramatically.  This leaves finishers who bought cattle when they were very dear in the last 12 months in a very tough situation.”  

“What we need is to create more competition so that we’re at least in with a shot of getting a decent price for the cattle we are producing.  We know that long term prospects are being developed with countries such as China and I am fully behind these efforts – but what I am calling for now is a parallel focus on increasing live exports immediately, in order to alleviate the pressure currently being felt as factories squeeze prices further and further.  There are indications that a number of countries in North Africa are potential customers for Irish cattle and possibilities like this need to be developed to the fullest extent.”

ICSA calls on Labour Party to clear up misinformation on farmers and third level grants

24th August, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has called on the Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, and Labour Party chairman, Colm Keaveney, to clear up the misinformation about farmers and third level grants.  “For the last few weeks, all kinds of misinformation has been allowed to fester regarding third level grants.   The biggest lie is the notion that the system allows a farmer to buy, for example, a tractor and use the full cost of that tractor to wipe out income, thereby qualifying the farmer’s child for a third level grant.”

“The truth, as Minister Quinn and Deputy Keaveney should know well, is that such investments are not allowable when calculating eligibility for the grant.  In fact, all capital investments, including farm machinery, livestock housing and pollution control facilities are expressly excluded – not only under the new system operated by SUSI (the new, centralised grant application system) but also under the old local authority/ VEC application system.”

“In fact, the rules state clearly that interest incurred on borrowings for such investments is also not allowed, nor is the leasing cost of machinery.  This actually puts farm families at a significant disadvantage compared to other sectors.  Farmers need to reinvest in their businesses in order to remain viable – or in some cases, in order to comply with Department of Agriculture regulations – and this reinvestment, and associated interest charges, means that there is much less money left to put food on the table or to pay for their kids’ education costs.”

Mr Gilmartin also argued that the perception that farmers can manipulate their income in order to have a “bad year” for the purposes of grant assessment is incorrect.  “The reality is that farm incomes are volatile and can fluctuate dramatically from year to year.  This is more and more a feature of farming, as the CAP is now more oriented towards direct payments for environmental goals, rather than price support.  To illustrate this reality, the average farm income two years ago was €11,968 according to the Teagasc National Farm Survey for 2009, compared with €24,361 for 2011.  Incomes for 2012 are likely to be down again.”

“Therefore, ICSA believes that the fairest way of overcoming any doubts, while ensuring fairness for farm families, is to assess farm incomes based on the accounts of the preceding five to seven years.  The information is freely available from farm accounts and the records of the Revenue Commissioners and this would dispel any doubts about good years and bad years.”   

Mr Gilmartin reiterated that ICSA is firmly opposed to any means testing based on assets, and that the association will be lobbying all TDs on the matter in the coming weeks.

One small cut for Government – one giant leap for business

27th August, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is calling on the Government to suspend the carbon tax to alleviate pressure on businesses, particularly farm business, as Irish farming attempts to deal with one of the toughest years in recent times.  

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said, “Fuel prices are set to rise to shocking levels in the coming weeks, and I dread to think of the bills that the farming sector, particularly agricultural contractors, will face when they go to fill their tanks with diesel.  That being the case, the carbon tax is making significant inroads into farmers’ ability to produce at competitive prices.”  

“At the moment the carbon tax comes in at over  6 cent per litre on green diesel (or €20/tonne – up from €15/ tonne before May 1st, 2012).  That’s a very significant amount of money when you consider how many litres would be put into the tank of a combine harvester, for example.  In fact, Teagasc estimated that the carbon tax was costing farmers €24million per year at the €15/tonne rate.  It follows that the current rate of €20/tonne is costing farmers in the region of €32million a year.  The fact that there is a double offset for carbon tax against income tax for farmers is not particularly helpful – it’s administratively very difficult, and varies depending on which rate of income tax you’re on.  Moreover, the double offset only applies to the increased carbon tax which came in on May 1st this year, and is therefore of very limited benefit.”  

“With 2012 looking like being one of the toughest years faced by the entire agricultural sector in recent times, and fears already mounting about a rise in how much it will cost Irish consumers to put food on the table in the coming months, now is the time for the Government to do what it can to ease the pressure on both farmers and consumers.”  

Mr. Gilmartin concluded, “Suspending the carbon tax would be one small cut for Government – one giant leap for business competitiveness.”

ICSA welcomes extension of DAS deadline

21st August, 2012

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, has welcomed the decision by the Minister for Agriculture to extend the deadline for derogation applications under the 2012 Disadvantaged Area Scheme.  “Today’s announcement means farmers now have the chance to properly digest the changes to the scheme, and figure out whether they may be entitled to a derogation from the increased stocking density requirements.  ICSA had argued that the previous deadline of August 24th was too soon, given that farmers only received notification of the changes last week, so it is certainly a relief that the Department has granted the extension.”

Changes to the 2012 DAS have recently been approved by the EU Commission, which include a retrospective requirement to have had a stocking density of 0.3 livestock units per hectare for three consecutive months in 2011 – an increase from the previous rate of 0.15 livestock units per hectare.  Anyone who does not meet the new requirement can apply for a derogation.  Minister Coveney has announced that the closing date for the receipt of applications for derogations under the scheme is being extended for one week, until Friday, 31st of August 2012.  According to the Department of Agriculture, around 10,000 farmers have received letters in recent days informing them of the changes and that they can apply for a special derogation from the new requirements.  

Mr. Gilmartin urged farmers to carefully examine the new terms and conditions of the 2012 Disadvantaged Area Scheme.  “This payment is hugely important for farmers on poorer land, particularly this year given the tough conditions being faced by farmers, so it is of utmost importance that you state your case and make the application for a derogation if necessary.”

ICSA calls on Minister to extend deadline for derogations to DAS

20th August, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney TD, to extend the deadline for farmers to apply for a derogation under the amended Disadvantaged Area Scheme.

Changes to the 2012 DAS have recently been approved by the EU Commission, which include a retrospective requirement to have had a stocking density of 0.3 livestock units per hectare for three consecutive months in 2011 – an increase from the previous rate of 0.15 livestock units per hectare.  Anyone who does not meet the new requirement can apply for a derogation – however the deadline for such applications is just days away, on August 24th.  

There are a number of categories under which farmers who do not meet the new stocking density can apply for a derogation.  These include:

•    Participation in an agri-environmental scheme (such as AEOS or REPS),
•    Participation in a National Parks and Wildlife Service farm plan scheme,
•    Cases of exceptional circumstances or force majeure, or
•    Where farming commenced after the 1st of January, 2010 and the farmer is deemed a ‘new entrant’ to farming

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said, “We know that around 8,000 farmers do not meet this new requirement, but I understand many of them only received the letter informing them of this late last week.  I am therefore calling on the Minister to extend the deadline to apply for a derogation beyond the current deadline.  The Minister needs to give farmers a chance to digest the changes that have been made to the DAS and submit the required information to apply for a derogation where necessary.”  Mr. Gilmartin added that he had misgivings about the retrospective nature of the changes.  “Changing the rules after the event sets a bad precedent.”

Mr. Gilmartin concluded, “I would also add that I hope the changes being made to the scheme this year do not result in any delay in payments.  With the winter we are facing, it is crucial that payments are made on time.”