5 MARCH 2019

ICSA suckler chairman John Halley has said that it is imperative that any initiative to get EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for beef should be focused on developing a niche for animal welfare friendly, less intensive suckler beef systems. “Suckler farming is the image used to promote Irish beef but suckler farmers are not getting the return for their system of farming,” he said.

Mr Halley was speaking following a stakeholder meeting on the subject of attaining PGI status for Irish beef, held in Agriculture House last week.

“PGI status should be used as a mechanism to sell suckler beef as a premium product to discerning consumers. There are many reasons why suckler beef should be seen as premium product, including high animal welfare standards, high natural health status and the fact that much of the suckler production is intrinsically linked with maintaining high amenity landscapes in regions where tourism is vital. Any strategy to get PGI status for the entire kill, including dairy beef, risks making the same mistake as the previous attempt in 2009, which was rejected by the EU Commission.”

“If we go for one generic PGI to cover everything, suckler farmers will feel let down that dairy farming interests have triumphed again when in fact, this should be used as a device to improve returns from suckler systems.”

“ICSA believes that if there is any hope, it must be the development of a suckler beef brand, based on natural, extensive, pasture-based farming. We cannot have PGI status for all beef, it just won’t fool consumers. Ideally, this should be done in conjunction with a really beneficial agri-environment scheme that is more like REPS and less like GLAS in terms of delivering significant payment levels to farmers engaged in suckler beef production.”

“There will have to be buy-in from the meat industry to market this as a high value niche product. This will not work if we have artificial incentives to encourage farmers to keep more suckler cows. Instead we need to focus on paying better direct payments to more extensive systems of farming because we have seen time and time again that scarcity is far better than traceability or sustainability for farmers.”



1 MARCH 2019

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said he is confident that a DAFM proposal to display herd histories on mart boards has been taken off the table for the foreseeable future as a result of strong opposition from ICSA and other farm organisations at the TB Forum. “As part of the TB Forum ICSA are delivering for drystock farmers on this issue, we need to ensure now that the measure is not introduced by the back door,” he said.

Mr Farrell said that the introduction of herd categorisation or risk based trading at this time would have a devastating impact. He said, “There are simply no mechanisms that could compensate for the devaluation in herds that this would bring about. This information, in a public forum, would wreak havoc on the market and result in many farms going out of business. ICSA will not stand by and allow this to happen when there is scope within the Department to further use this sensitive information in-house when individual cases are identified”

Mr Farrell said that while the TB Forum has its merits, department officials are very focused on pushing through their own demands while resisting demands from farming organisations. “The desire is there from both sides to speed up the eradication process but farmers concerns over adequate disease policy measures and compensation levels will need to be addressed for things to progress.”

He said, “In particular we need to see more commitment from DAFM officials to tackle the deer situation. It is a stated objective of the Department to eliminate TB but this cannot be achieved unless we know exactly what is going on with TB in deer and what can be done to eliminate the risk of transmission to cattle.”

This is why ICSA has been calling for a comprehensive research programme into the link between TB in deer and in cattle. “There must be a research programme and there must be full openness and transparency around the results. The Department mantra that there is no evidence of a link between the ever expanding deer population and the spread of TB rings very hollow when they haven’t done the necessary studies. It is incredulous that despite repeated calls from ICSA, officials from the department’s wildlife section have not sat on the Forum.”

“Likewise, on the badger front, we do not have sufficient trust in the vaccination programme. We have seen big breakdowns in areas where vaccination has been rolled out so it is only right that we question the methodology and effectiveness of the vaccine before any further demands can be placed on farmers. This will require more testing of badgers, including testing prior to vaccination and testing of all culled badgers.”

On the financial side, reactor compensation levels remain a contentious issue, particularly for sucklers cows where the loss of production value is not taken into consideration.  ICSA has been arguing that calves under four months should be considered a unit with their mother if the mother has tested positive for TB. This calf should be removed from the farm with their mother as a disease prevention measure and a valuation on the unit as a whole should be made.”

Again, as a disease prevention measure, ICSA is calling for the urgent establishment of a closed calf to beef units to accommodate calves from reactor herds. “We need to see this established to reduce the potential for these calves to further spread the disease as they are dispersed around the country.”

 Neither do the overall costings of the programme adequately reflect the true cost of the programme to farmers. “These issues have yet to be resolved. The danger is that the Forum will be shut down once the Department have got what they want out of the process while these and other issues are put on the long finger.”



27 FEBRUARY 2019

Speaking from London, ICSA president Patrick Kent has said there is almost universal agreement amongst farm organisations that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for farming. Mr Kent made his comments following a meeting today of officials from a broad spectrum of farm organisations which operate under the umbrella Fairness for Farmers in Europe.

Commenting Mr Kent said, “It is clear from our talks this afternoon with our colleagues from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain that a no-deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome for farmers on these isles. While the Irish Government has put certain measures in place in an attempt to offset the fallout from Britain crashing out of the EU, it will never be enough. Likewise, for our counterparts in the North and Great Britain the consequences would be dire.”

Delegates at the meeting were unified in urging the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove to recognise the importance of avoiding a no-deal Brexit scenario.



22 FEBRUARY 2019

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that he is shocked that ABP UK has got into the business of manufacturing meat free burgers. He described their GBP£250,000 marketing spend on a meat-free, plant based food range, as outrageous. “This is insult to beef farmers everywhere but particularly Irish beef farmers given the dire position the sector is in at present. ABP UK have prospered greatly off the backs of hard pressed beef farmers and to throw this in their faces at a time like this is an utter disgrace.”

Mr Kent suggested ABP UK should be more concerned with their core business and that the money would be better spent on paying a better price to beef farmers and promoting greater beef consumption. “At a time when beef farmers can’t even cover their costs, the gall of advocating plant based quarter pounders rather than treating beef farmers fairly is contemptuous in the extreme.”

Link below to GlobalMeatNews article ‘ABP UK enters plant-based market with Equals range.’



22 FEBRUARY 2019

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that the announcement on increased state aid limits does not reflect the absolute devastation that would result from a hard Brexit on the beef sector. “Increasing the three year state aid limit from €15,000 to €25,000 would barely cover the losses already incurred by a sector where beef price is down up to €200 per head on certain categories of cattle such as bull beef.”

“However, if there is a no-deal Brexit and the UK applies full WTO tariffs to beef imports, then the state aid announcement will not even remotely cover beef losses. In that case the Irish Government will have to demand a comprehensive EU package to add to extra state aid.”

“ICSA met senior EU officials in Brussels earlier this week and we made the case very strongly that Brexit is Europe’s problem. Talking about solidarity between the EU-27 is fine but meaningless unless it is backed up by extra funds. Irish beef farmers did not cause Brexit and they cannot be expected to carry the can. While Ireland is committed to the EU, such commitment must be reciprocated to protect Irish farmers.”



22 FEBRUARY 2019

ICSA sheep chairman Sean McNamara has called the revelation that factories and marts will not be obliged to install systems for reading EID tags as ludicrous. “The onus is now on the Department of Agriculture to make the installation of the necessary systems compulsory as a matter of urgency. Sheep farmers cannot be expected to fork out for electronic tags if they’re not going to be read,” he said.

From 1 June 2019, farmers must tag all sheep and lambs with an electronic tag set. However, even with an exception secured for lambs under 12 months moving directly to slaughter to only require a single electronic tag, the estimated bill for sheep farmers is €20m per year.

“The reality is that mandatory EID tagging has been forced on us. It will do nothing that would result in sheep farmers achieving a better price. Neither will the consumer benefit as there is no additional traceability gained from their use. We were told that EID was a market requirement but if the factories and marts are allowed to adopt an indifferent attitude, why are we wasting our money? The least we should be able to expect is that the need for written dispatch dockets would be eliminated and that the factory or mart would be able to print off the necessary paperwork.”



Michael Gove’s announcement that he will impose food import tariffs to protect British farmers will add to Brexit worries for farmers here.

In many respects, Gove’s comments illustrate the many contradictions in the pro-Brexit position. It is at odds with the pro-free-trade ideology espoused by many Brexiteers.

The problem for Irish farmers is that it crystallises the worst outcome of a no-deal Brexit. Tariffs on beef imports to the UK will hit Irish farmers in the no-deal scenario. We are looking at 58% additional cost on our beef exports and 52% extra on cheese exports, at WTO tariff levels. The Government costs these these tariffs at €1.7 billion per annum.

Here in Brussels, there is widespread frustration with the UK position.

There is little sign of EU concessions on the Withdrawal Agreement which is a logical response to the incongruity of Theresa May voting against her own agreement.

Moreover, the likely position of Brussels is to impose tariffs on UK imports as well, in the absence of an agreement outcome.

Meanwhile, Gove will have to grapple with whether he imposes such tariffs on all UK food imports which will cost UK consumers or selectively applies tariffs to non-EU food imports which is potentially illegal under WTO rules but which might be justified on the grounds of national emergency and on the calculation that a WTO appeal could take years. Either way, he risks antagonising countries such as Australia and Canada which are prime targets for UK trade deals.

Gove’s comments will further intensify the pressure for a package to avoid a catastrophe for our farmers. ICSA has spent the last few days in Brussels pushing for such a package. However, while the EU Commission stands ready to help, the question of how to fund such a package is not simple.

Options could include a Brussels rescue package modelled on the support given in the aftermath of the Russian ban on EU food exports but the scale of EU exports to the UK suggests a higher sum in the region of €10 billion. This is complicated by the fact that most of current expenditure is accounted for and, critically, that the EU Commission budget proposals for the period 2020-27 have not been agreed by EU heads of state and are unlikely to be progressed anytime soon.

Another possible source of support would be to allow exceptional state aid. This could involve allowing Ireland to exceed its EU Budget Deficit rules. Neither EU funding nor exchequer funding are palatable options for those who control the purse strings but the consequences for our €13 billion agri-food export sector cannot be understated.

Even the form of a rescue package is difficult. Traditional instruments such as buying into intervention or export refunds are problematic to say the least. Some form of compensatory payment to farmers is likely the most appropriate but by no means straightforward mechanism.

Already, Irish beef farmers in particular, are suffering massive losses. Beef price to farmers is down up to 50c/kg year-on-year and this equates to €200 on a 400kg carcase.  In a sector notorious for tight margins, such losses are not sustainable by Irish farmers.

It is still not too late to hope that a compromise – probably involving some form of extension of Article 50 or a transition period without a deal – can be agreed. This is primarily a matter for the UK but both the EU and the Irish Government will have to pull out all the stops to ensure that Irish farmers do not carry a massive cost from Brexit which would have huge knock-on implications for rural communities and the economy. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of beef farming in Ireland is on the line.


15 FEBRUARY 2019

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has said the beef trade is absolutely toxic for farmers. “Seeing prices which are down 40c/kg (€160 on a 400kg carcass)compared to the summertime is a real sign that winter finishing is in total crisis. Bull beef is now being hit with weight limits of 400kg which is absolutely unsustainable for bull beef coming from the suckler herd on top of prices which are about €1.50/Kg less than what is needed.”

Meanwhile it is abundantly clear that the glut of dairy calves is causing havoc to the trade as well. There is no case for dairy bull beef systems as loss making is inevitable and all that is being achieved is to undermine the beef demand/ supply balance.

We need answers now from processors on whether there is any reason for farmers to feed cattle over the coming twelve months. The old live horse and you’ll get grass attitude is no longer acceptable.”



12 FEBRUARY 2019

A farmers meeting hosted by Leitrim ICSA will take place on Thursday 14 February, in Henry’s Haven, Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim. The event will commence at 8.00 pm.

Guest speakers on the night will include:

Hugh Farrell – ICSA Animal Health & Welfare Chair 

The on-going challenge of TB Eradication – Where to now?

Ray Gilmartin – Agricultural Consultant

Schemes & Drystock Farming

Followed by a Question & Answer Session

Discussions will also take place on;

Beef Prices, CAP Reform & Brexit

All farmers are invited to attend.

For further information, please contact ICSA Leitrim chairman Ray Gilmartin on 087 8325519 or ICSA office at 057 8662120.




12 FEBRUARY 2019

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has said that the bull beef trade is extremely frustrating at the moment for farmers. “There are enormous difficulties with bull beef at present. Since the start of 2019, I have been inundated with calls from farmers struggling to get young bulls killed. Farmers with dairy breed bulls are particularly badly impacted. Most factories don’t want to know about dairy bull beef. Farmers with continental bulls are faring out a little better but delays in getting bulls killed is also a problem for them.”

“It is high time we had clarity on the outlook for dairy bull beef in particular. It seems to us that this enterprise is a complete waste of time. It’s bad enough losing money but to have the stress of not knowing when or if you can get your bulls killed is completely unacceptable.”

“I am calling on Teagasc to make it very clear that farmers should not get involved in dairy bull beef production. Friesian bulls are just about making €3.00-€3.10 at present while ordinary bulls are getting €3.50-€3.60, which is still back a good .40c on this time last year. It is way too high of a risk and even if markets improve to the extent that there is a steady demand, the economics of dairy bull beef simply doesn’t stack up.”

“Apart from the cost of feeding animals that grade below R, handling dairy bulls is high risk in terms of health and safety. Wear and tear on facilities with bulls is another factor never properly costed. But it is undoubtedly the case that feed barriers, drinking bowls and dividing gates do not last intact for long with bulls compared to heifers or steers. There is no doubt that continental U grade bulls are far more efficient converters of feed but the risks and rewards from dairy bulls just don’t stack up at all.”