ICSA WELCOMES BUDGET EXTENSION OF SCHEMES BUT MORE CLARITY NEEDED

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13 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said that today’s budget provides some welcome clarity around the continuation of schemes and supports to farmers but it also provokes some questions. However, he said that the cloud of possible Brexit failure and Covid lockdowns over-shadow everything.

“ICSA welcomes the allocation of €79 million for pilot agri-environment/ REPS schemes and funds to roll over the existing GLAS, BDGP and sheep welfare schemes. The €45 million allocation for a Covid Beef scheme to improve carbon efficiency may also be helpful but the devil will be in the detail. Moreover, ICSA is concerned that there is no explicit mention of the continuation of BEEP S and we want the Minister to clarify this as soon as possible.”

“ICSA strongly welcomes the commitment to increase funding for the Organic Farming Scheme to €16 million from €12 million. There is no point in grandiose ideas in the EU Farm to Fork Strategy without the necessary supports and it will also require a lot more effort in terms of driving new market access for organic beef and lamb.”

“ICSA has also lobbied hard for a trebling of the Sheep Welfare Scheme and this must be delivered. The overall increase in funding for the Department of €179 million provides room for this. It also means that there should be scope for a more ambitious funding of a suckler brand strategy which should also receive a portion of the extra €25 million ear-marked for Bord Bia.”

“ICSA cautiously welcomes the confirmation of the establishment of a Food Ombudsman because ICSA started looking for a Food Chain Regulator in 2014 but again we reiterate, the office must be given real power to bring transparency to the food chain and outline who makes what from products such as beef.”

On taxation, ICSA welcomes that fact that finally, the tax discrimination against self-employed people such as farmers will end with the announcement that the earned income tax credit will increase to €1650. “This was originally meant to be achieved in three years but better late than never, although it should be noted that it will be 2022 before the benefit actually impacts farmers.”

“ICSA also welcomes the extension of the stamp duty reliefs (consanguinity relief and farm consolidation) which means that the stamp duty for these land transfers remains at 1% rather than the punitive 7.5%. We are disappointed that there was nothing done to increase the Capital Acquisitions Tax thresholds.”

Overall, the budget is no longer sufficient on its own to handle the increasing volatility posed by Brexit and Covid risks. “If we don’t have tariff free access to the UK in 2021, then there is nothing in this budget that will stave off disaster,” he concluded.

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FARMERS MUST RETAIN CONTROL OF SUCKLER BRAND AND GRASS FED PGI

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13 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the twin track approach of a grass-fed PGI and a suckler brand has not been fully thought through. “ICSA cannot agree to a PGI which is designed without adequate regard for how it will lead to better prices for farmers nor could we agree to a suckler brand which could be completely controlled by meat factories. Unless there is a genuine strategy to deliver better returns to our members, there is no point,” he said.

Mr Phelan made his comments following the cancellation of yesterday’s scheduled meeting of the Beef Taskforce amid continuing disagreement on the issue.

Continuing Mr Phelan said, “The key sticking issue for ICSA is that any strategy must be farmer led and controlled. So far, all we have got from the Department is a wholly inadequate promise for a ‘monitoring committee’ which is not worth the paper it’s written on. The future of the suckler herd is desperately dependent on getting a premium price and this will only happen when the suckler farmer is central to the strategy. That’s why the ICSA has consistently argued for a suckler based PGI.”

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ICSA CALLS FOR BDGP SCHEME TO CONTINUE DURING CAP TRANSITION

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6 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA suckler chair Ger O’Brien has called on Minister McConalogue to provide clarity on the continuation of a BDGP scheme during the CAP transition phase. “Suckler farmers badly need the funding allocated to the BDGP and it must continue uninterrupted. ICSA is calling for an immediate commitment by the Minister to do everything possible to ensure there is a BDGP type scheme in place for 2021 and 2022, which are likely to be the CAP transition years.”

“The scheme marked a key milestone for beef in this country with the advent of wider genotyping of cattle. ICSA believes the future target must be the genotyping of all calves from the suckler herd as this would be hugely beneficial for development of suckler beef brands into the future.”

“We have made significant developments through the genotyping of cattle and this work should not go to waste,” he said.

Mr O’Brien said there would also be a financial impact for suckler farmers if the scheme is discontinued. “Our suckler farmers rely on these schemes to make ends meet. It is therefore vital when a scheme is coming to an end that provisions are made for a new scheme to be devised, or where that is not possible, for the scheme to be rolled over. A new and improved BDGP scheme may have to wait until a new CAP is finalised but in the interim it is crucial that the work of the BDGP scheme can continue and suckler farmers can continue to be supported. We also need confirmation that the BEEP S scheme will continue during the full transition phase.”

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RAW DEAL FOR LOCAL SUPPLIERS AS IMPORTED LAMBS SWERVE WEIGHT LIMITS

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2 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA Sheep chair Sean McNamara has criticised factories for hammering local producers on weight limits while paying out on heavier imported lambs. Factories have maintained 21.5kg as an upper weight limit for local suppliers yet we hear some are prepared to pay up to 22kg for foreign lambs. It is time they gave us an explanation for these double standards,” he said.

Mr McNamara said, “ICSA members from around the country have been monitoring the situation at factories and it would appear the practice of differentiating between local and imported lambs on weight limits is widespread.”

“Sheep farmers want a level playing field. We see no reason at all for factories to be importing lambs from the north and elsewhere, and there certainly can be no justification for paying more for imported lambs.”

Mr McNamara reiterated his call for greater transparency around sheep imports. “We know that in any given year approximately half a million lambs are imported into the Republic for slaughter. Sheep farmers deserve to know why these lambs are being brought in and in such big numbers, and why local producers are getting a raw deal.”

Mr McNamara said 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.

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ICSA WELCOMES RECONVENING OF TB FORUM

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1 OCTOBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has welcomed the reconvening of the TB Forum this morning (1 Oct) and the full participation of Ministers McConalogue and Heydon. “While this morning’s meeting was long overdue and there are many contentious issues yet to be resolved ICSA is committed to working in a collaborative way with all relevant stakeholders.”

Mr Farrell again condemned the issuing of TB Herd History Risk Statements and said, “ICSA made it very clear today that the issuing of these letters went way beyond what had been agreed at previous sittings of the Forum.  We remain deeply dissatisfied with the way the Department has essentially taken it upon themselves to bring in herd categorisation by the back door, and in doing so, they have unleashed the potential for markets to be seriously distorted.”

Mr Farrell said the move by the Department has underlined the need for urgent reform of compensation measures. “Any form of herd categorisation will become a matter for compensation. It is not acceptable for the Department to follow a strategy to change the TB regime in line with their own wishes while ignoring all the requests put forward by farmer representatives. The changes made have all had a financial impact on farmers, and the fact that they have been done in advance of the substantive issues around compensation being resolved is grossly unfair.”

Mr Farrell thanked Minister McConalogue and Minister Heydon for their participation in today’s meeting and said, “Their presence underlined the critical nature of the issues at hand. It is now incumbent on them to ensure the TB Forum charts a way forward that is both effective in terms of TB eradication and sensitive to farmers’ needs.”

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BLEAK OUTLOOK FOR WINTER FINISHERS AMID INDUSTRY SILENCE ON PROSPECTS FOR BEEF

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29 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said that the future for winter finishing is looking very bleak with a no deal Brexit now becoming a serious possibility.

“Beef finishers are once again being left without any certainty in beef prices or markets. With the potential of €740m tariffs being imposed, beef finishers need the full facts as to how this will affect their business. Yet the meat industry, the Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia and Teagasc have had little to offer in the way of help or advice,” he said.

Mr Graham said it is now essential that meat factories start making plans for forward contracts with fixed prices. “Farmers could end up broke if they tie up substantial levels of capital in feeding cattle at high daily costs over the coming months with no guarantee of a return.”

“Farmers need clear figures from Teagasc on winter finishing costs based on today’s store prices and with a sensitivity analysis to allow for a no-deal Brexit. Teagasc need to be upfront with winter finishers. Winter finishers need accurate costings which are based on the reality of what mart prices are for stores at the moment. In short, farmers need to be told what price they need next spring to make a reasonable return on the work and investment involved in feeding cattle for the winter.”

“We also need Bord Bia to explain what are the options for 260,000 tons of beef if we find the UK market is not feasible in the event of tariffs being applied.”

“The uncertainty around the outlook has left winter finishers very worried and many are currently telling us that they just won’t do it.”

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ICSA WILL OPPOSE ANY MOVES TO INCREASE FARMER FUNDING OF TB ERADICATION PROGRAMME

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25 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has reacted angrily to the suggestion that farmers could be expected to fund the increasing cost of administering the TB Eradication Programme. “Through herd testing and disease levies farmers contribute over €35m annually to the programme. With less than less than half this figure channelled back to farmers through compensation measures in any given year, it is clear farmers already pay more than their fair share,” he said.

Mr Farrell was referencing Department of Agriculture commentary on the issue that suggested an increase in farmer contributions to the programme could be on the cards.

“The suggestion is even more galling given that DAFM staff costs & admin run at approximately €27.5m annually while there is no acknowledgement or recognition of the time and labour that farmers contribute. If this was taken into consideration ICSA estimates that farmer contribution would exceed €50m annually. ICSA has looked for a further breakdown of those staff and admin costs at the Department, and Minister McConalogue must deliver greater transparency around this.”

Mr Farrell said it was inevitable that successive agri-food strategies that were based on increasing the size of the overall herd would pose some challenges to the TB Eradication Programme. “While the farmer contribution is increasing through testing more animals and through more levies, it is only fair and logical that the Department contribution should increase in line with the increase in agri-food exports.”

“The target was to get to €19 billion agri-food exports and so far, we have surpassed €13 billion, representing over 30% growth in output. To a significant extent, this has occurred due to the increase in dairy cow numbers to 1.5 million by 2019 from 1 million before quota abolition, with a consequential impact on beef numbers. But you cannot plan for a 30% expansion in agri-food exports and then assume that there will be no impact on costs on department programmes such as TB.”

“However, while the expansion of the dairy herd is one of the reasons given by the Department to explain the recent increase in TB incidences, consideration must also be given to the significant rise in economic activity as a result of that expansion. All of these extra receipts to the exchequer would far exceed the increase in funding required to fund an expanding TB Eradication Programme.”

Mr Farrell said, “ICSA does not accept this seemingly never-ending narrative from the Department of Agriculture that farmers are to blame for any increase in TB levels, and we will resist all attempts to foist any additional costs onto farmers.”

“Rather than imposing more hardship on farmers, ICSA wants to see the Department focus their efforts of developing a TB test that is 100% accurate. The Department have admitted that a clear test does not mean there is definitely no TB present and vice versa, which is just not good enough. Farmers are not prepared to stump up more money for a hit and miss programme that causes extreme financial hardship for those caught up in it.”

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ONE SIZE FITS ALL PGI APPLICATION REMAINS PROBLEMATIC FOR ICSA

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24 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan said the Beef Taskforce needs to be more focused on delivering for farmers. Speaking following yesterday’s meeting, Mr Phelan said that ICSA would not support the PGI grass fed application in its current format. “While we agree in principle that PGI status is a tool to help improve farmer returns from the market place, we have serious misgivings about the proposal to cover almost all dairy derived steers and heifers because it is very hard to get a premium for everything. As purpose of a speciality designation is to achieve a premium price for a special and unique product, ICSA believes the application – in its current one size fits all format – is too diluted and undermines the potential to get a premium price for specialist suckler beef production.”

“Bord Bia made the comparison with Michelin Star restaurants but missed the obvious point that only a few very elite restaurants can get that accolade. ICSA wants to see a coherent plan to develop suckler beef as a premium product. ICSA also outlined that we are not happy with the proposed governance structures for this PGI. A PGI must be majority farmer controlled. We are deeply unhappy with the proposal to have a monitoring group with only two farmer representatives. Instead we want to see a controlling board which would have majority farmer representation.”

ICSA is also insisting on a guarantee for funding for developing a suckler brand and assisting start up farmer producers who wish to sell beef direct to market. “It is unacceptable that developing a suckler brand is contingent on getting a €3 million EU grant. A relatively miniscule amount like this should be immediately available from state resources but it should be backed up with additional funds from meat processors who have a lot to gain.”

Mr Phelan also expressed frustration that the Grant Thornton report on price composition as well as the final drafts on competition law and the relevance of in-spec conditions to market requirements had taken so long.

“We have also asked for a dedicated examination of the Brexit risks particularly because we think it is unacceptable for farmers to be expected to gamble a fortune on winter finishing in light of Brexit uncertainty. We are facing the potential of winter finishers being wiped out if they don’t have a guaranteed price for the spring. The Beef Taskforce needs to grasp this issue sooner rather than later and ICSA wants to see all the main beef processor chiefs at the next Beef Taskforce meeting.”

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BEEF TASKFORCE MUST URGENTLY ADDRESS IMMINENT BREXIT THREAT TO BEEF

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22 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the potential fallout from Brexit must be top of the agenda when the Beef Taskforce meets this week. “We are three months away from potential Armageddon and farmers simply cannot be expected to fill sheds with cattle in the coming weeks when there is unprecedented risk attached to this in light of Brexit uncertainty.”

ICSA wants to see this week’s Beef Taskforce focus in-depth on the Brexit risks. “This is the biggest threat to the future of our sector and it must be treated as urgent. The risk of tariffs being imposed on Irish beef exports to the UK from January onwards is very real. The potential for disastrous losses is manifest and turning a blind eye to this risk is unacceptable.”

“ICSA is urging Minister McConalogue to demand that individual processors appear at the Taskforce meeting. Processors can no longer be allowed to hide behind Meat Industry Ireland (MII), they need to be at the table engaging with primary producers in an open manner. Beef finishers around the country won’t fill their sheds unless some kind of stability is afforded to them, and we need to hear what processors have to offer. It is unacceptable that beef finishers should be expected to absorb all of the risk at this critical time.”

“Every effort must also be made by the Irish Government and the EU to ensure that primary producers here are protected. The EU has set aside a €5bn Brexit fund and securing that the lion’s share of that for Ireland – as the country most impacted by Brexit – must be a top priority. The amount will need to be equivalent to the cost of tariffs on an annual basis and ongoing basis. Furthermore, beef imports from outside the EU must be suspended in the event of no deal between the EU and UK.”

“We cannot continue with the business as usual approach at a time when the UK seems hell-bent on collapsing a sensible trade deal. Perhaps a bare bones deal can be pulled together at the last minute, but the stakes are now too high for burying heads in the sand.”

“Consequently, the question of the PGI status for grass fed beef should be deferred pending further negotiations. ICSA had a virtual meeting with Department officials on Friday where we re-iterated our position that the PGI status should be part of a bigger strategy to brand suckler beef as a premium product. ICSA also expressed concern about ownership and governance relating to the PGI application. Any PGI designation must be for the benefit of the primary producer and its management must be overseen by a board where farmers’ interests are protected. In particular, it is essential that the interests of suckler farmers and beef finishers are heard and protected.  We are waiting to hear back from the Department on the points raised.”

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MINISTER MUST DELIVER CLARITY ON SHEEP WELFARE SCHEME

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21 SEPTEMBER 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said Minister McConalogue must deliver clarity on the future of the Sheep Welfare Scheme. “Preparations are already underway for next year’s lambing season and there has been no word on if the scheme will be rolled over into next year. Sheep farmers are none the wiser as to whether or not to include tasks relevant to the scheme in those preparations, and this needs to be addressed immediately,” he said.

“With margins so tight and with no Brexit or Covid related aid forthcoming for the sector, sheep farmers are finding it tougher than ever. Now we have been left to operate in a complete vacuum of information on the Sheep Welfare Scheme.”

As a means of supporting sheep farmers ICSA has sought a substantial top-up payment on the scheme for this year, “We believe this must now be given careful consideration. Any unused monies in the Department’s various budgets must go towards helping sheep farmers at this time. We have been at the back of the queue for too long.”

Mr McNamara also reiterated his call for a more substantial long-term package which would include a €30/head sheep payment in the next round of CAP. “The scheme has worked well so the foundation is there to build on that and offer sheep farmers a greater financial dividend for undertaking additional tasks. In the interim however, we need the scheme to roll over into 2021 and for all avenues of providing additional financial support to sheep farmers to be explored.”

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