AEOS “no longer fit for purpose”

18th May, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said that the whole agri-environment strategy was in disarray.  “While we welcome every effort to put in place an AEOS scheme for January 2013, the truth is that AEOS is no longer fit for purpose.

It is neither a credible replacement for REPS nor an innovative way of delivering substantial environmental benefit on a national scale.  
However, Mr Gilmartin accepted that farmers who had to put up with the inconvenience and income loss associated with designation needed support and needed it fast.  

“The frustration of farmers should not be under-estimated.  We have some 10,000 farmers out of REPS since May 2011 and nowhere to go.  The Government is failing to appreciate that, for many of these, the loss of REPS as well as cuts to the Disadvantaged Area payment represents a halving of income.  We are talking about farmers whose Single Payment is less than the value of these schemes which have been decimated,” he concluded.

ICSA urges farmers to submit Single Farm Payment form on time to avoid penalties

14th May 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is urging all farmers to submit their completed Single Farm Payment forms on time, and to make sure that all details are as accurate as possible.  The deadline is tomorrow, Tuesday 15th of May (5.30pm for paper forms – online applicants have until midnight tomorrow).

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin says:  “It is vital to submit this form on time as any delay will cost you money in the form of deductions.  The Single Farm Payment is the most important application that farmers will have to make this year.  In many cases, the payment is absolutely crucial to the overall viability of a farm.”

The penalties for late applications are significant – with applications arriving on Wednesday, 16th of May being hit with a 1% deduction immediately.  This increases by 1% per working day, until the cut-off date of June 10th – when the penalty rises to 100%.

“Last year 1,700 farmers lost out on €1.6million in payments due to late application.  These are substantial losses that could easily have been avoided,” according to Mr. Gilmartin.

“The important thing is to get the form in on time.  Amendments can easily be made after Tuesday’s deadline,” he added.  Single Farm Payment Amendment forms can be submitted up until the 31st of May, 2012.

ICSA express frustration over changes in TB rules

8th May 2012

Members of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association have expressed continued frustration over recent changes in TB testing arrangements.

The issue was discussed at last night’s meeting of the ICSA National Executive, which was attended by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney.  The changes, which came into effect on the 1st of January this year, mean that when two or more TB reactors are discovered on a farm, herds adjoining that holding are restricted, pending a clear test, if they have not been tested clear in the previous four months.  Cattle can only be moved on or off the farm if they are being sent for slaughter, until the herd clears a test.

ICSA Rural Development Chairman John Barron said: “While we fully appreciate and support the Minister’s goal to eradicate TB in Ireland, we feel these restrictions are too much of a burden on farmers.  It’s particularly worrying for suckler farmers who need to get their weanlings to the mart to sell them.  A contiguous breakdown is potentially disastrous for suckler farms.”

In recent days, the Minister has issued a statement clarifying the Government’s position on the new contiguous testing arrangements.  He reiterated that statement at last night’s meeting, emphasising that restrictions will be examined on a case-by-case basis, and only herds which are identified as being “genuinely relevant to the breakdown” will be restricted.

Mr. Barron said: “This clarification is to be welcomed – however the fact remains that a TB breakdown in one herd has the very real potential to lock up several other herds, and possibly several parishes.  The average Irish herdowner operates across three separate blocks of land, and many farms are fragmented even further.  One farmer could have a dozen or more neighbours and in those situations, the possibility of being restricted is quite high.”

“We also have to think about farms which may be adjacent to an industrial feedlot, which often have almost permanent TB reactor issues.  Are these farmers supposed to cope with an endless cycle of restriction and re-testing?”

“With advances in technology, the Department is now able to cut off all avenues of sale at the click of a mouse.  What we are looking for is a guarantee that there will be flexibility in these measures, and only genuinely high-risk herds are restricted.  Not being able to sell your cattle as normal can lead to severe hardship and this has to be avoided.”

ICSA welcomes Farm Council reaction To CAP reform proposals

30th April 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has welcomed the strong opposition to the drive for a reformed CAP based on a flat rate payment, which was evident at last week’s Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg.  Mr Gilmartin describes the proposal put forward by Portugal – that the maximum cut for any individual farmer would be capped at 8% per hectare – as “particularly significant”.  This proposal was supported by Minister Coveney, as well as by Italy.

“The reaction at the Council of Ministers demonstrates that there is no appetite for radical reform or revolution.  It also means that it is premature and inappropriate for knee-jerk calls to go back to the old coupled style payments.”

“What is needed now is for like-minded countries to build on a growing acceptance that the reform proposed by Commissioner Ciolos is too radical.  A CAP that limits the hit to our current active farmers but which retains the concept of full decoupling is possible, and we need to focus our lobbying on such a model.  The ICSA is urging the Minister to continue to build alliances with like-minded countries and work towards a flexible CAP, based on keeping the decoupled model, which has worked well in terms of better prices.”

ICSA says Fair Deal Scheme must no longer depend on property market

24th April 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association says the review of the Fair Deal Nursing Care Scheme – announced by Minister of State for Older People, Kathleen Lynch – must recommend a move away from the current system, which depends on the value of property to recoup its costs.
Under the Scheme, the cost of Nursing home care for those who cannot afford to pay will be recouped from their assets including their house, after their death, to a maximum amount of 5% of their assets, per year of Nursing Home Care. In the case of a householder this reimbursement has been capped at 15%.
However this cap only extends to farms and farmland in very limited circumstances, meaning that if a farmer is in a nursing home for 10 years, the Government potentially could take 50% of the value of the land. This would make it impossible for a young farmer to inherit the land as they would be hit with enormous debt which would become due on the death of the parent who was in the Nursing Home.
General Secretary of the ICSA, Eddie Punch, says: “We have always argued that the Scheme as it currently stands is deeply unfair on family businesses and family farms.  The Minister is right to question the logic behind a property-based system for nursing home care.”
“The potential bill for a farm family is frightening, and in some cases will put the successor out of business.  This could easily arise where the elderly parent ends up requiring perhaps 10 years of care following a stroke or the onset of dementia, for example.”
“We welcome the fact that the Minister shares our view that property shouldn’t be taken into account under this Scheme, and that she intends to look at alternative housing options for elderly people in need of care,” Mr. Punch concluded. 

ICSA concerns on Disadvantaged Area Scheme cuts

10th April 2012

ICSA rural development chairman John Barron has re-iterated ICSA opposition to any cuts in the disadvantaged area scheme.  Mr Barron said that there was a lot of confusion out there with the scheme with no word yet from Brussels as to whether the proposed changes to the scheme outlined in the budget will be implemented.
Mr Barron stated that farmers in DA areas cannot carry a €30 million cut.  “While there are efforts to find a way to cut €30 million without hitting deserving active farmers, the truth is that it is exceptionally difficult to cut expenditure from €220 million to €190 million without creating all sorts of anomalies which will have very severe impacts on certain categories of farmers.”
“For example, the progressive farmer, whose main holding is in a disadvantaged area should not suffer any cuts just because he has taken extra land in a non-disadvantaged area.  This would be a penalty on enterprising farmers.”
“There is also a difficulty with stocking rate rules.  Many farmers in the west have been subject to stocking rate cuts under Commonage Framework Plans.  To be fair, the Department will allow a derogation for these cases, but it will require the farmer to apply for such a derogation.  It is essential that these cases are expedited so that there are no hold-ups in payments.”
“Unfortunately, successive governments have seen the disadvantaged area scheme as a soft touch when it comes to cutbacks.  This is the kind of cut, which undermines confidence in government and EU funded schemes.  The entire Pillar 2 programme has become very discredited in recent years due to cutbacks, and it undermines the case for a robust Pillar 2 in any CAP reform.”

ICSA insists that electronic tagging not needed for factory lambs

10th April 2012

ICSA sheep chairman Paul Brady said that the critical thing regarding the EID system is to retain the derogation for lambs going direct to factories.  “There is no logic to putting an electronic tag into a lamb that will be hanging up next day.”  Mr Brady was responding to reports that the Minister is to tighten up on re-tagging of sheep, effective from June 1st 2012, which will mean, in practice, a push for full electronic tagging in stock sold in marts.
Mr Brady conceded that the current situation in marts is leading to confusion and there are issues for the buyers of store lambs.  “The producers who buy big numbers of store lambs will welcome electronic tagging of animals sold in the mart as it will make their job easier when they are selling on to factories or elsewhere.  Currently they are either re-tagging or facing up to a lot of reading and writing which is not ideal in terms of labour or accuracy,” he concluded.

ICSA note of concern on beef trade

10th April 2012

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan has warned,  “the beef sector is on thin ice with the potential for serious losses mounting against a backdrop of beef prices remaining stagnant at a time of the year when beef price needs to be rising to cover the high costs of winter finishing.”
“Farmers have been paying exceptional prices for stores over the past six months, with a clear anticipation that beef price will continue to rise.  However, while there are no grounds for price cuts in the short term, the reality is that beef price can only go so high and that point has likely been reached already.  Further price rises will require a major improvement in economies across Europe and an inflationary environment.  A weakening of the euro against sterling is also a necessary ingredient if prices are to increase but there are little signs that these factors will fall into place in the short term.”
“With costs continuing to rise, farmers need to be very cautious and much closer analysis of costs and margins is essential.  It seems clear to me that there are plenty of farmers going to marts who are not doing their sums or who have unrealistic expectations of further significant price increases.”
“The current environment shows the naivety of calls for 40% increases in beef output or any return to coupled payments.  The beef market is very sensitive to fluctuations in supply, while demand is not growing at a sufficient rate.”
Mr Phelan criticised meat factories that, he said, “are keen to return to the old ways of low prices and high volume.  They need to send a clear message to supermarkets that €4 is now the minimum price required for autumn beef and that winter finishers need at least 30c more.”

ICSA calls for more precise information on ration quality

March 16, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has called for more precise information on the quality of rations fed to cattle and sheep.  Mr Gilmartin explained that farmers could not assess the value for money of various rations without more exact information on energy values and ingredients used.

“Farmers are buying rations on a promise but without the key information to enable them to assess what they are getting.  The lack of information makes it impossible to compare one ration against another and this acts as a barrier to shopping around and seeking best value. Moreover, farmers need to be able to accurately assess the cost and benefits of all feeds given to stock and not just when the animal is finished, or the milk produced. This has become an even more serious issue with the high cost of rations and it is time that the regulations governing what information is available is revisited.”

“At present, the regulations require that a compounder selling a ration provides a list of ingredients in order of usage in the ration.  However, the farmer has no idea whether there is 30% or 50% barley, for example, nor has he any figure for energy, on either the ME (metabolisable energy)  or NE (net energy) basis.  This is simply not good enough and it is time for a full debate on why we can’t have transparency on the biggest single cost item on most farms,” he concluded.

Clarity required in bull beef production

16th March 2012

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan today said that beef factories must clarify where they stand with bull beef production.  Mr Phelan was reacting to efforts by meat factories to impose cuts on lower grade bulls and heavier bull carcases with some reports of 10-15c/kg discounts being quoted.

Mr Phelan also pointed out that the failure to include bulls in the beef grid indicated that meat factories were not supportive of the production of top grade U+ carcases from young bulls.

“Farmers who produce top quality young bulls are not getting properly rewarded in beef factories. While U+ steers can get up to 30c more than the R grade base price under the beef grid, no such premium applies to bulls.

“The grid system is unbalanced and works against the farmer because a substantial proportion of the better cattle are now being finished as bulls whereas the lower quality cattle are much more likely to be finished as steers.  Consequently, they lose out under the grid but there isn’t a corresponding increase for the bulls.   

So far, in 2012, we have seen a 16.6% increase in young bull slaughterings compared with a 25.7% decline in steer slaughterings.

This means that young bulls are accounting for 28.5% of the total prime cattle kill in 2012 compared with 10% in 2009 and just 3% ten years ago.

The problem is that meat factories seem content to allow farmers to switch to bull beef production in substantial numbers without indicating if there are markets for all this bull beef.  Factories have been very quick to campaign for an increase in the suckler herd but this is a potentially disastrous policy if there is no appetite for bull beef production.

The reality is that Irish finishers are competing strongly at the weanling sales for heavy U grade continental weanlings.  These animals are too strong for castration and are ideal for bull beef.  Suckler farmers, in turn, can’t afford to be producing lighter calves or traditional breeds because they just are not capable of getting prices in the region of a €1000.  While there has been progress on getting bonuses for Angus and Hereford Prime beef, factories have given no signal that they have an appetite for substantial increases in traditional breeds.

Factories need to make up their mind whether they wish to support bull beef production and by extension, whether they wish to encourage the retention of the suckler herd.  This will require that U+ grade bulls are paid well in excess of R grades as happens with steers on the grid.   

Mr Phelan also suggested that it might be time to review the operation of the grid system.  He said that the grid still had a credibility problem.  “One issue is that the base price is often misleading as there are too many categories of cattle below the R3 base which are cut.  It might be more accurate to have a lower base, such as 03, with the majority of cattle then qualifying for a bonus rather than a cut.”