ICSA WELCOMES EU SUMMIT DECISION TO FINALLY APPROVE BUDGET

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11 DECEMBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed the EU Summit decision to finally approve the EU budget for the next seven years after a logjam caused by disagreement from Poland and Hungary. “The decision to sanction the €1,074 billion multiannual financial framework (MFF) along with the Covid stimulus package, otherwise known as Next Generation EU (NGEU) is vital. The NGEU adds €750 billion to the MFF and every cent will be needed at a time of profound economic challenge.”

“From a farming perspective, it clears the way to move on with delivery of the next CAP. The logjam was beginning to cause a lot of concern about whether CAP funding and additional funds for Covid and Brexit could actually be delivered. ICSA welcomes the pragmatic decision of the EU Summit which was essential at a time of potential chaos due to the Brexit impasse.”

“ICSA will be arguing very strongly that CAP funds must be directed to the greatest extent to low income cattle, sheep and tillage farmers who are more than 100% dependent on direct payments for their income. It is now time to acknowledge that CAP funds must be balanced in favour of less intensive farmers given that this is the kernel of the so-called green architecture which underpins CAP funding for the next seven years.”

“It would be a complete contradiction in terms if the CAP programme is tweaked to allow significant payments to be diverted in a way which incentivises even more highly intensive farming systems. Further expansion in dairying should be funded by the marketplace. At the moment, Ireland’s milk price compares poorly with our western EU neighbours and this is not a problem that should be resolved by diverting more CAP funds from low income cattle and sheep farmers to expanding dairy farmers.”

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ICSA PRESIDENT ALARMED AT BREXIT IMPASSE

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10 DECEMBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said he is alarmed at the current impasse on Brexit but remains hopeful that common sense will eventually prevail. Reacting to the statement by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in which she said that the position of the EU and UK remain far apart, Mr Phelan said that Ireland is on the precipice of disaster but so is the rest of the EU and the UK. “It would be a complete failure of diplomacy and statecraft to allow no deal at this point.”

“The beef sector cannot endure another calamity just at a point when there has been some improvement in the outlook. The €5 billion Brexit EU fund will be totally inadequate if there is no deal.  Ireland cannot find another market for 270,000 tons of beef in the near future and the consequences will be catastrophic not just for farmers but for all of rural Ireland.”

“It would be particularly outrageous given that progress has been made on a lot of issues. Obviously the issue of a level playing field on product standards is tricky but surely both sides are committed to quality food?”

“The Taoiseach must use every opportunity at the EU summit today and tomorrow to emphasise the disaster facing us all. It is also time for him to make it clear that the €5 billion EU Brexit fund will have to be increased by multiples if no deal is done.”

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MART PRICES AHEAD OF FACTORIES

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4 DECEMBER 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said that mart price for heavy beef cattle is well ahead of factory prices at the moment. “Farmers should look very carefully at what prices are being paid in marts for heavy, finished cattle. Factory agents are actively chasing fat cattle which along with Northern Ireland buyers is leading to much better prices in marts. Selling fat cattle in the marts now is a no-brainer, particularly for cattle that don’t qualify for all bonuses on the grid.”

Mr Graham said that in many cases, prices at marts were the equivalent of €4/kg and upwards. There are numerous clear examples of farmers being €100-150/ head better off selling in marts. For most of 2020, farmers saw a clear advantage in selling heavy suckler cows in marts rather than the factory. But the advantage of selling in the mart is now covering heifers and steers as well.

“In some scenarios, where all bonuses and benefits from the grid are achieved the mart does not have significant advantage. However, farmers are frequently surprised at their cattle grading lower than expected and then ending up with a disappointing price. At least in a mart, you can change your mind.”

“The mart price demonstrates that factories could pay a good bit more at the moment. We have seen the differential between Irish and British steer price increase to over 60c/kg in the second half of 2020 and prices are continuing to rise in the UK, on the back of continued strong demand for beef. GB price is now Stg£0.48/kg higher than a year ago and is actually at its highest level since 2014 in sterling terms. Beef supplies for last week are down 2,500 head on this time last year in Britain. All of these factors suggest that the current factory price is well below what it should be, and this reflected in the booming mart trade.”

“I am strongly advising all beef finishers who are free to trade to sell some stock in marts for comparison purposes. I am quite confident that they will not be disappointed.”

Examples of a recent mart: The following prices were recorded by Edmund Graham at a recent mart. Estimated kill outs (ko) are made by Edmund Graham.

Hereford bullock, grade o= / ko 52%

  • 750kg @ €1585

carcass 390kg = €4.06/kg

  • Charolais bullock, grade R- / ko 55%

775kg @ €1705

Carcass 426kg = €4.00

  • Limousin bullock grade R+ / ko 55%

810kg @ €1865

Carcass 445kg = €4.19

  • Limousin bullock, grade U= / ko 60%

780kg @ €1920

carcass 468kg = €4.10

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ICSA CALLING ON MINISTER TO SEEK SOLUTION TO MEAT PRODUCT BAN BREXIT RISK

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24 NOVEMBER 2020

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has said that he is very worried at the potential difficulty in exporting certain processed meat products to the UK next year due to a technical detail under EU regulations. “The problem is a Brexit related issue because from January 1, 2021 the UK will be impacted by its decision to leave the EU. Accordingly, a pre-existing EU regulation which restricts the import of meat preparations, including minced meat and sausages, to frozen-only product could have major ramifications for our exports.”

“The problem is that the UK is likely to impose the same rule in return. That impacts us big time. Key markets such as supermarkets do not usually want frozen product. We could, in theory, get around it by exporting sides of beef and doing the additional processing in the UK but it adds a lot of risk.”

“ICSA is calling on the Minister to exert maximum pressure at EU level to get a solution to this problem as soon as possible. It is very unfortunate that this issue is only coming to light at this late stage.”

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RACE ON TO BECOME NEXT ICSA PRESIDENT

24 NOVEMBER 2020

The race to become the next national president of ICSA has begun with two candidates in the running following the conclusion of the formal nomination process.

The candidates are:

  • Dermot Kelleher, Co Cork. Mr Kelleher is a suckler farmer from Inchigeela in West Cork. He currently holds the position of ICSA Munster Vice President.
  • Sean McNamara, Co Westmeath. Mr McNamara is a sheep, beef and suckler farmer from Lismacaffrey in Co Westmeath. He currently holds the position of ICSA Sheep Chair.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the election will take place by postal vote. Votes will be counted at a special meeting of ICSA to be held on Thursday, 17 Dec 2020, which will comply with Covid guidelines applicable at that date.

The new president will succeed current ICSA president Edmond Phelan whose tenure will come to an end in January 2021.

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NEW URGENCY REQUIRED FOR BEEF TASKFORCE

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23 NOVEMBER 2020

ICSA has written to the chairman of the Beef Taskforce to demand more urgency in delivering the Irish Beef Sector Agreement and to insist that the current threats to the beef farming sector are dealt with. According to ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham, farmers are increasingly frustrated that the Beef Taskforce has not delivered fast enough.

“Beef price is unacceptably low and ICSA wants to see the meat industry explain why prices have fallen so far behind UK prices, particularly in the second half of 2020. We now have gap of 60c/kg between Irish and British prices for steers. It is also clear that in the second half of 2020, Irish beef price has fallen back compared to the prime export benchmark, which measures a basket of EU export destinations.”

Mr Graham also outlined frustration that the Beef Taskforce has effectively ignored the Brexit challenge. “We are barely a month away from a potential Brexit catastrophe, yet it has scarcely been discussed at the Taskforce in the last six months. Even if we avoid the worst no trade deal outcome, there is a lot at stake in terms of efficiently exporting our product with minimum disruption. Winter finishers are being asked to take an enormous gamble, yet the meat industry is providing zero guidance on the various scenarios that are now foreseeable.”

ICSA has also complained that the targets set out in the beef agreement of 2019 are now slipping further behind. “The PGI question has dominated discussions in recent months. However, there is no excuse for the fact that the independent reports on customer and market requirements; the price composition of the total value of the animal and the comprehensive review of the quality payment grid have stalled.”

“ICSA is also annoyed that little detail has emerged on the Food Ombudsman, notwithstanding the fact provision was made for it in the recent budget. ICSA is also demanding that the meat industry explain why it is dragging its feet on the commitment made more than a year ago to install live weighing scales in factories.”

“ICSA is calling on the chair of the Beef Taskforce to ramp up the ambition and to inject a new sense of urgency into the Taskforce. We have lost too much time struggling to adapt to Covid. We need monthly meetings to get back on track and the consultants and Teagasc need to deliver on commitments. We want to see robust debates about the benefits of the Chinese market compared to the challenges faced. We also want to see more clarity around the threats and opportunities posed by Covid.”

“I cannot emphasise strongly enough that the Beef Taskforce cannot be seen to fail. But I am increasingly struggling to convince farmers that it is working as well as it should and ICSA is calling for efforts to be ramped up in the coming months.”

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ICSA CALLS FOR MORE SENSIBLE APPROACH ON ANTIPARASITIC DRUGS

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17 NOVEMBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said that plans to introduce compulsory prescriptions for routine dosing products for livestock are completely over the top and is calling on the Minister to take a pragmatic approach. “ICSA does not want to see a regime severely curtailing the conditions under which routine wormer and other doses, or vaccines are supplied. We need a more sensible approach.”

“EU regulation 2019/6 still provides for an exemption from prescription control although the grounds have tightened. ICSA believes that the Department has been too quick to rush into pushing for prescription only status for anti-parasitic doses. There is no agreement among stakeholders that this should be the outcome. Instead, there is deep concern that this will lead to an erosion of competition whereas farmers want to be free to choose between vets, pharmacies and licenced merchants.”

Mr Farrell also warned that it was not sensible to have a different regime than that which applies in Northern Ireland. “Apart from the risk of cross border purchasing, the reality is that a tighter regime in the Republic will make our farmers less competitive. We have no doubt that the restrictive regime proposals will add cost through reduced competition and excess bureaucracy.”

He also pointed to the fact that vets are already over-worked and in some locations farmers are finding increased delays in getting vets out to emergency situations. “Having vets tied up doing prescriptions and potentially having to do unnecessary wasteful farm visits will exacerbate the situation where they are not immediately available for an emergency call-out.”

Mr Farrell said that the authorities are citing anthelmintic resistance as a reason for a much more draconian regime. “This is showing a complete lack of respect for the competence of farmers who are at the front line in delivering excellent care for their stock.”

“Farmers are well aware of the problem of anthelmintic resistance. That’s why many suckler farmers have chosen to carry out dung sampling under the BEEP S scheme. Farmers will use scientific measurement to minimise the use of anthelmintics.  But it would be misleading to think that there is widespread scope to eliminate or even substantially reduce the need for wormers and flukicides for example. The wet climate is ideal for fluke and many farmers already know the extent of the fluke threat from meat factory examinations of livers.

“Making these doses prescription only is not going to change the fluke challenge on wet farms. There are better solutions than prescription only status which leads to licenced merchants being prevented from offering competition. We are calling on the Minister to ensure we do not tie ourselves up in knots when a more balanced approach is called for.”

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OPEN THE MARTS-ICSA

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10 NOVEMBER 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has again called on Minister McConalogue to open the marts. “ICSA wants to see a resumption of live bidding with all the social distancing safeguards alongside online bidding. The reality is that marts are an essential business and are an integral part of the food supply chain. Meat factories continue to operate as do supermarkets. But the supply of beef to the supermarket shelf begins with farmers and they need a fully functioning livestock mart system.”

“We have seen large scale Covid outbreaks in meat factories and none in marts, yet marts are being punished. Apart from the disastrous collapse in an online platform a couple of weeks ago, there are ongoing problems with broadband every week. In addition, the current level 5 restrictions have impacted the sale of pedigree bulls and while some bulls have been sold, many have been withdrawn before sale or due to lack of bidding. This reflects the reality that looking at a twenty second video is not good enough for a key decision about a breeding animal that will impact herd profitability for years to come.”

“It might be put up with if we had a guarantee that the current level 5 restrictions are only for six weeks. But soundings from NPHET are very pessimistic and ICSA wants Minister McConalogue to face up to the fact that if he does not deal with this issue now, it will be an ongoing disaster for most of 2021.”

“Mart sales are down in numbers in recent weeks and if we continue this way, mart closures will be the inevitable consequence. This is not good for competition in the livestock trade. We have seen crystal clear examples of this with the cow trade in particular in 2020 where the marts provided significant gains for many farmers over selling direct to factories.”

“The situation has become untenable and Minister McConalogue must move to align marts with other essential food production operations so that primary producers can maintain their businesses.”

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ICSA ON TB STRATEGY: NOTHING WILL BE AGREED UNTIL OUTSTANDING COMPENSATION AND WILDLIFE ISSUES DEALT WITH

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5 NOVEMBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said that the association will not agree to any proposals from the Department until all outstanding issues around compensation and wildlife measures (including deer) are dealt with in a satisfactory way.

ICSA agrees that there is a need for enhanced support for herds that have had a long and difficult TB experience. However, the term “enhanced support” is not analogous with provisions such as imposing a 30 day pre-movement test. Mr Farrell said that the ICSA would not even entertain this discussion unless it was guaranteed that any such proposals were limited to very specific cases of herds that have had severe and recurring TB outbreaks.

In addition, ICSA would not engage unless the TB Strategy was built on the principle that there would be full financial supports in place to ensure that no individual herd owner was carrying unfair cost.

There must be a satisfactory conclusion to the outstanding questions relating to compensation and a commitment to fully confront the role of wildlife. In particular, ICSA wants to see an end to the half-hearted engagement with the deer problem.

ICSA also wants to ensure that independent valuers are left to do their job and that compensation ceilings are significantly amended in the case of breeding stock. There is also outstanding issues around hardship grants, income supplements and depopulation, which must be resolved.

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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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