FERTILISER PRICE HIKES WILL HAVE DIRE CONSEQUESCES FOR TILLAGE FARM INCOMES 

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19 FEBRUARY 2021

 ICSA Tillage chair Gavin Carberry has described the speed at which the price of fertiliser has increased over recent weeks as staggering and said it will have dire consequences for farm incomes. “In the space of six weeks we have witnessed price hikes of almost 50%. Nitrogen which was trading at €180/t has now skyrocketed to €300, and urea is a whopping €400. That sort of a burden is just too great to bear,” he said.

“Fertiliser companies are blaming various global issues for these price increases, but what good is that to farmers who cannot increase their own prices to absorb any extra costs? Primary producers have been forced into a position of being price takers and most have zero opportunity to work any increase in the costs of inputs into the final price they receive. The bottom line is that incomes will be seriously eroded.”

“It is completely unrealistic for farmers to be expected to take a hit like this, and for reasons beyond their control. Tillage farmers will need supports and they will need to be compensated. Ireland has been singled out for €1.05bn in Brexit Support Aid and Minister McConalogue and his department officials will have to fight for some of those funds to be directed towards the tillage sector.”

Mr Carberry said given the sharp increase in fertiliser prices, the choice to move to organic farming might be more appealing for many tillage farmers. “The Organics Scheme will open for applications in March, and although places in the scheme are limited, I would urge farmers to give it some consideration. Equally, farmers could consider sowing beans to minimize their use of fertiliser. These options will only be useful for some tillage farmers however, and a significant number are going to need help.”

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MINISTER MCCONALOGUE MUST INTERVENE ON DRACONIAN ANTI-PARASITIC PROPOSALS 

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17 FEBRUARY 2021 

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has again called on Minister McConalogue to reconsider plans to introduce compulsory prescriptions for routine dosing products for livestock. “These proposals are akin to taking a sledgehammer to the way farmers take care of the everyday needs of their livestock. They are completely over the top and the intervention of Minister McConalogue is now required to sort this out,” he said.

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 is 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.”

“The Department has been too quick to rush into pushing for prescription only status for anti-parasitic doses, particularly given that there is absolutely no agreement among stakeholders that this should be the outcome. EU regulation 2019/6 still provides for an exemption from prescription control, and this option must be revisited as a matter of urgency. We are calling on the Minister to ensure we do not tie ourselves up in knots when it is clear a more balanced and pragmatic approach is called for.”

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ICSA CHALLENGES MEAT INDUSTRY’S NEGATIVE NARRATIVE 

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16 FEBRUARY 2021 

ICSA has accused the meat industry of a relentless narrative of negativity to undermine beef farmer confidence, in light of suggestions that their costs will increase 40% due to Brexit related disruption.

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham said that the answers supplied to the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and the Marine by Meat Industry Ireland were selective at best and designed to hide the fact that, for too long, meat processors have taken the easy option of passing back costs to the primary producer instead of to the purchaser.

“Any extra costs associated with customs processes, and disruptions in logistics should be passed on to the consumer, particularly in the UK. It is absurd that UK consumers expect to be shielded from the consequences of Brexit because Irish processors would rather hit their own suppliers. This argument that UK supermarkets will go elsewhere is just a scare tactic.

UK supermarkets have invested a lot of capital in imposing rigorous traceability and quality assurance standards on British and Irish farmers. It doesn’t hold water to argue that they would jettison all this and take beef from South America instead. Previously the argument was that it was the wholesale and catering sectors that were fickle; but now these sectors are much less significant due to Covid while retail sales of beef have risen.

Mr Graham went on to challenge the meat processing sector to set out in detail how the Brexit disruption will add 40% in costs. “ICSA is insisting that we need more price transparency, and we want this delivered through the Food Ombudsman who will need extra powers through legislation.  But in the meantime, if the meat processors want to make public statements about increased costs, they need to quantify this in detail or else withdraw it.”

“In any other business, increased costs of raw materials have to be factored into sales pricing. Farmers are now facing even greater costs in supplying beef as fertiliser and ration costs are spiralling upwards and beef price cuts are totally unacceptable. Winter finishers are at nothing producing beef for below €4/kg; in reality the price needs to be closer to €5/kg.”

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ICSA MEETS WITH MINISTER OF STATE PIPPA HACKETT 

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9 FEBRUARY 2021 

ICSA has today met with Minister of State Pippa Hackett to discuss a range of issues included in her land use and biodiversity portfolio. Addressing the Minister, ICSA president Dermot Kelleher firstly expressed his concern at proposals contained in the EU Biodiversity Strategy that would see designations placed on 30% of in land in Europe, with 10% extremely restricted. “ICSA will not accept further designations on Irish farmers when we still do not have proper compensation for existing designations,” he said.

“ICSA is extremely concerned about the potential for further designations, when farmers have seen their land devalued and their farming restricted and there has been no proper scheme to cover these losses. The small top-up in GLAS has been woefully inadequate and we want to see a proper scheme of compensation administered through the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service),” according to ICSA rural development chair Tim Farrell.

“ICSA also raised the issue of re-wetting peatlands under the control of Bord na Mona and highlighted the concerns of adjacent landowners who are terrified that this will have knock-on impacts on their land. These farmers are rightly concerned that the re-wetting will undo a lifetime of work on land adjacent to Bord na Mona.”

On the issue of forestry, Mr Kelleher urged the Minister to adopt longer term supports. “If we are serious about encouraging native tree and hardwood plantations, then we must increase the supports. Extending supports beyond fifteen years is the only realistic way of ensuring these plantations are workable. For hardwoods, forestry premia need to be paid for at least thirty years. Clear fell and planting logjams must also be urgently addressed.”

ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne highlighted the lack of ambition in the current Organics Scheme. “Cattle and sheep farmers have again been marginalised in the latest call for applications to the scheme. This is very discouraging, and clearly out of step with wider ambitions to vastly increase the proportion of land devoted to organic production across Europe by 2030. ICSA believes that drystock farmers must not be discriminated against in any future rounds of the Organics Scheme.”

Mr Byrne also pushed Minister Hackett to provide additional investment for the marketing of all organic produce. “We still struggle to find markets for what is produced on just 1.5% of land domestically. As such, a determined effort to expand export markets for organic produce is essential and must go hand in hand with widening the Organics Scheme. ICSA is suggesting that some of the €100 million Brexit fund for processors should be allocated to a marketing plan targeted at massively increasing exports of organic beef and lamb at a worthwhile price.”

In discussions on the €100,000 Wool Feasibility Study announced by Minister Hackett in Budget 2021, ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara said, “ICSA established an Irish Wool Steering Group in response to the complete collapse in wool prices during 2020. We have brought together leading figures in the Irish wool industry with the aim of charting a way forward for the sector. Our focus is on capturing the full potential of this valuable natural resource and increasing the return to sheep farmers for their wool. We look forward to working with Minister Hackett in driving this initiative forward.”

Representing ICSA at the meeting were ICSA president Dermot Kelleher, ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne, ICSA Rural Development chair Tim Farrell, ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara and ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch.

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ICSA CALLS FOR TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO CONTROL DOGS AROUND LIVESTOCK

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8 FEBRUARY 2021

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has called for tougher penalties for dog owners who fail to control their pets around livestock. “Current penalties do not correlate with the damage done when dogs are free to run loose in rural settings and attack livestock. All of these incidents are preventable, but that message is clearly not getting across and tougher penalties are now more than justified,” he said.

Continuing Mr McNamara said, “Dog owners are often extremely shocked upon learning that their pet has been involved in a sheep worrying incident. However, the reality is that even pets which are usually docile and well-disciplined can react badly around livestock. There can be absolutely no place for complacency when it comes to the supervision of dogs in the countryside, and that message must be driven home loud and clear.”

“Fines of €100 are doing nothing to deter incidents of sheep worrying happening year after year. ICSA has learned of one case where a dog owner failed to comply with an order to have a dog put down after attacking a flock of ewes and lambs. This individual was merely fined another €100 and sent on their way. Penalties like that are not going to change the habits of irresponsible dog owners.”

Mr McNamara, who himself has suffered losses due to sheep worrying said, “It is unbelievably distressing to walk out and find dead or dying ewes. Even if the sheep are not directly attacked and have no visible injuries, they can die from the shock alone. The stress brought on by the attack can also cause some ewes to abort. On top of that there are also financial losses to deal with.”

“Everybody should be able to enjoy the countryside, but they must do so responsibly. All attacks can be prevented if dog owners properly supervise their dogs. Our sheep and lambs are particularly vulnerable at this time of year, and it is imperative for all dog owners to be conscious of the devastation their pets can cause when left unsupervised, even for a short time.”

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FACTORIES MUST BE HELD TO ACCOUNT FOR PRICE CUTS AND THREE-DAY WEEK 

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8 FEBRUARY 2021 

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said there is no logical reason for beef quotes being slashed to the €3.70 mark this week. “Again, we are seeing factories moving in unison to cut prices, and in many cases, cut back to a three-day week. Farmers are entitled to an explanation as to what is going on, and factories must be held to account,” he said.

“Demand for beef remains high and sterling rates are favourable, yet many farmers are reporting difficulties booking cattle in for slaughter and those that do get slots are being hammered on price. It makes no sense, and again we are seeing winter finishers bearing the brunt. They are being left to shoulder the full cost of feeding cattle over the winter which is completely unsustainable and cannot be allowed to continue.”

“It is clear the factories are continuing to run rings around the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) which has proven itself to be completely ineffective in dealing with the beef industry. If the promised Food Ombudsman is to do what the CCPC cannot, it is critical they are given the necessary powers to do so, with whatever legislation is necessary. Farmers will not stand for a Food Ombudsman that cannot take on the processors and regulate the whole beef sector.”

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ICSA CALLS FOR ADDITIONAL BEAM FLEXIBILTY 

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5 FEBRUARY 2021

ICSA has welcomed clarification from the EU Commission that responsibility for the dates for the 5% BEAM reduction lies with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This opens the way for the inclusion of an alternative deadline of 31 December for meeting the targeted 5% reduction. However, ICSA has met the Department again this week to press for accurate and timely information to be supplied as soon as possible to farmers so they can judge where they stand.

ICSA also insisted that there should be maximum flexibility and choice for farmers in availing of this concession.  ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham said: “The Department must allow farmers to choose which deadline they want (June 30 or December 31) and farmers need to be facilitated in making that choice at any stage up to and after June 30.”

Farmers should not be pressurised into making a decision in the short-term. Given the delays in getting accurate information to farmers, it is not acceptable that they will be required to make a decision too soon. For example, a farmer should have the option of trying to meet the June deadline and if that doesn’t succeed, the December deadline should be available as an alternative.”

“However, the reality is that it will be August before any farmer will get a definitive report from the Department on their position regarding the 5% reduction so it is logical that farmers cannot be expected to make a decision in the short term.”

“ICSA has held a number of meetings with the Department to outline the serious difficulties farmers have in complying with the 5% reduction target. A key issue has been that clear information regarding stocking rate (bovine nitrates tracking) has been too slow in coming but we have been given reassurances that farmers will be getting much more usable information in the coming weeks.”

“The reality is that monthly nitrates figure are being issued with at least a five-week delay. Therefore, many farmers will not even know if they have met the target until the first week in August. It is ludicrous for farmers to be expected to decide on which period they want to be assessed on, without knowing where they stand.”

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DISAPPOINTMENT FOR DRYSTOCK FARMERS AS ORGANICS SCHEME REOPENS  

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2 FEBRUARY 2021 

ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne has said the March reopening of the Organics Scheme is welcome but that we need to more in terms of access to the scheme for cattle and sheep farmers. “The opportunity for an additional 400-500 farmers to convert to organics farming is welcome, however priority will once again be given to those in the dairy, tillage and horticulture sectors at the expense of drystock farmers.”

Mr Byrne said it is clear more will need to be done in terms of future investment in the sector. “ICSA wants to see cattle and sheep farmers included in the movement towards organic farming, not actively discouraged. Our ambition must be to develop an Organics Scheme that would include far greater numbers of cattle and sheep farmers, in tandem with a drive to secure adequate markets for all organic produce.”

“We know that our beef and lamb producers are willing to get on board, but we also need to see a concerted effort from the Department of Agriculture, from Bord Bia and from our meat processors to drive this sector forward in any meaningful way.”

Mr Byrne said he would still encourage ICSA members to apply for the scheme, “As young farmers will also be prioritised for the scheme, young cattle and sheep farmers may have a better chance of being accepted. It may also be an option for some drystock farmers to consider diversifying some of their holding to tillage to increase their chances of being accepted into the scheme.”

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ICSA CALLS ON MINISTER TO DRIVE ON THE CAMPAIGN FOR A SUCKLER BEEF BRAND


28 JANUARY 2021

New ICSA president Dermot Kelleher today told Minister McConalogue that he must drive on the campaign to develop a suckler beef brand. Speaking at the ICSA AGM and conference, Mr Kelleher said, “There must be absolute commitment from all stakeholders to turn this dream to reality.”

The first steps have been taken at the Beef Taskforce, with the commitment of funds to Bord Bia for initial market research and development. But on its own, this will not be enough. I don’t want to see us falling at the first hurdle. Developing a suckler brand will require trial and error. It will need absolute commitment from Bord Bia and 100% support from the Minister and the Department.”

“It will also need full buy-in from meat factories and, to concentrate minds, I am calling on the Minister to attach conditionality to the €100 million Brexit funds secured for processors. I believe that there are two essential conditions that should apply to beef processors getting some of this money. The first is absolute commitment to price transparency and co-operation with the food ombudsman. The second is that meat processors who are committing their own resources to the suckler brand should get priority for the funding.”

“This fund is explicitly for the processing and marketing initiatives of processors and we believe that it must be used to develop suckler beef as a premium brand with a view to returning a strong premium to suckler beef producers.

The ICSA leader called on the Minister to find a solution to the BEAM scheme difficulty. “We cannot have a scenario where thousands of farmers are forced to return badly needed money due to missing the unworkable 5% reduction. ICSA has already proposed that alternatives such as trailing shoe and protected urea be used as an alternative for those who don’t meet the 5%. This is actually a more true and genuine way to reduce carbon rather than selling cattle to other farmers which doesn’t achieve anything. An extension to the end of the year is not the solution, it is simply kicking the can down the road.”

“We want the minister to deliver a significant portion of the €1.05 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve to the drystock sector. Cattle and sheep farmers are enduring their fifth year of economic turmoil because of Brexit. Uncertain market conditions remain, and the impact of that market uncertainty continues to hit hardest in in the lower income farming sectors.”

“In the longer term, ICSA wants a CAP that prioritises low-income cattle, sheep and tillage farmers. The eco-scheme must be simple, and it should favour less intensive farmers. The eco-scheme should not set a bar too high to prevent a substantial payment under a new REPS type scheme in Pillar 2. ICSA believes that a trebling of the current GLAS budget is the only realistic way to approach a new Agri-Environment REPS type scheme.”

“Farmers must be given the means to deliver on ambitious targets and rewarded for their contribution. We must ensure that those who did most for biodiversity in the past are not disadvantaged in the future. ICSA wants to ensure that there are no more penalties in Pillar 1 for those who prioritise maintaining land in a more ecologically friendly way and in line with Pillar 2 objectives. In short, we want a scheme that means that the farmer who participates can see a real financial benefit over the farmer that doesn’t.” 

Mr Kelleher urged Minister to inject a new sense of urgency into the Beef Taskforce. “Progress has been too slow, and farmers want to see results. The Food Ombudsman is a welcome development, but we want to see the necessary legislation put in place that will give the position real powers.”

“ICSA also wants to see greater price transparency around sheep meat. Sheep farmers are not getting a fair share of the end value of their produce, and this is just as much of a problem as it is in the beef sector. We want to see a bigger and better Sheep Welfare Scheme that would significantly increase the financial reward to sheep farmers. ICSA is proposing that a per ewe payment of €30/hd is now essential. We also want to see the Minister and Department work with ICSA to devise a plan to make wool valuable again.”

On the TB Eradication Strategy, Mr Kelleher said, “There are differing viewpoints that remain between the Department and farm representatives when it comes to the objective of TB eradication. ICSA maintains that sound strategy must be based on fair play for all farmers and a recognition that full and accurate compensation is the essential foundation of success.”

Mr Kelleher expressed alarm at the EU Biodiversity Strategy and insisted that there is no more room to designate land when we still don’t have proper compensation scheme for existing designations. “ICSA is extremely concerned at unworkable ideas in the EU strategy to have extreme restrictions on 10% of the total farmland area in Europe and designations on 30%. This needs to be pulled back to some form of reality at EU level.”

“ICSA is fully supportive of increasing supports for organic farming but it can only be done in parallel with a plan to increase markets for beef and cereals in particular.”

Mr Kelleher said that he was supportive of increased supports for tillage, but he had concerns about the plans to pay tillage farmers to incorporate straw in the soil. “We need to ensure we have adequate straw, for animal welfare and as the foundation of organic farming systems.  We need to look again at how we can get more land into tillage and make it profitable and at the same time we must ensure adequate straw for livestock systems.”

Mr Kelleher was addressing Minister Charlie McConalogue and members of the ICSA National Executive at ICSA’s AGM and Annual Conference which was held by video conference today (28 January 2021).

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ICSA CALLS FOR TRAILING SHOE/ PROTECTED UREA AS OPTION IN LIEU OF 5% BEAM REDUCTION

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22 JANUARY 2021

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has proposed that a compromise could be found to the problem of the 5% BEAM scheme stocking rate reduction. “ICSA is asking the Minister to negotiate an option for carbon reduction involving trailing shoe and/ or protected urea as an option for those who cannot meet the 5% reduction in organic nitrogen.”

“This would avoid the appalling vista of 8,000 hard pressed farmers being asked to return up to 100% of the BEAM money already received which in certain cases is a €10,000 penalty. The reality is that not only are farmers struggling with the complexity of this requirement but neither Teagasc nor the Department have the tools to advise farmers of where they stand in a timely and accurate fashion.”

The option to allow farmers who can’t meet the 5% requirement to use trailing shoe and protected urea as an alternative is win-win as it delivers carbon mitigation and is in line with the national strategy to deliver carbon reduction in Irish agriculture. Therefore it should be a very welcome proposal in Brussels. I am calling on Minister McConalogue to tackle this as a matter of urgency.”

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