Farmers already pay more than urban counterparts to send children to college

14th August, 2012

As the debate surrounding the inclusion of capital assets in the third level grant means test rages on, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gimartin, has highlighted the fact that rural families sending kids to college in urban centres are already paying significantly more than their urban counterparts.

As outlined in the ICSA’s submission to the Capital Asset Test Implementation Group – the group which is examining the possibility of including capital assets in the third level grant means test – a study carried out by Dublin Institute of Technology estimates that it can cost rural-based students thousands of euro more per year to attend college in the capital, compared to Dublin-based students.  As the tables below illustrate, that additional cost can amount to more than €4,500, in the form of additional accommodation, travel, food and utility costs.  

Mr. Gilmartin said, “I would hope that Minister Quinn is not going to ignore the fact that farming families already have a huge additional financial obstacle to overcome in order to send their kids to college, compared to urban families.  To include the value of their essential assets in calculating eligibility for the student grant would make that job even more difficult; impossible in some cases.”

“Any suggestion that farmers should simply liquidate their assets in order to afford third level education is ludicrous.  Farm assets are not second homes, or investment properties, or luxuries of any sort.  Farm assets are the essential tools of the trade, and to liquidate them would seriously impact farmers’ means of generating income.”

“There is no room for argument on this issue.  Minister Quinn simply cannot entertain any proposal that would so disproportionately affect the farming community.”

Table 1 – Average cost of Living for Student Renting Accommodation in Dublin



 Annual Cost




 Elec/Gas/Bins (Public Utilities)






 Travel (Monthly Commuter Ticket)



 Books and materials






 Mobile Phone



 Social Life/Miscellaneous








Table 2 – Average cost of Living for Student Living at Home in Dublin



 Annual Cost

 Contribution to bills 









 Books and materials









 Social Life/Misc 








ICSA calling on all TDs to oppose changes to third level grant means test

8th August, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is calling on all TDs to come out in opposition to any proposals that would see capital assets included in the means test for the third level grant. ICSA president, Gabriel Gimartin, has welcomed the fact that a number of deputies have today voiced their opposition to such a change being made. “The ICSA has been actively lobbying against any such move since the possibility was first mooted.”

“While we understand that the Government is assessing all expenditure with a view to making necessary savings, we contend that the inclusion of capital assets in the third level grant means test would have far too great an impact on equity of access to third level education for families relying on income from self-employment, including farmers.”

“While there are all sorts of spurious allegations about farmers manipulating their incomes to qualify, there has been no evidence advanced that this is in fact actually a factor in determining the amount of farm families qualifying. In a bad year, such as 2009, only 6% of farms generated an income greater than €40,000 which is below the eligibility cut off for full grant.”

The reality of the situation is illustrated by the following figures from the recent Teagasc National Farm Survey: the typical 30 to 50 hectare farm generated just €14,735 in income (in the case of suckler farms), €20,363 (in the case of beef farms), and €19,402 (in the case of sheep farms) in 2011. It is also worth noting that 2011 was, in general, a good year for farming – bad weather conditions and rapidly increasing commodity costs mean that incomes are likely to be significantly lower in 2012.

Mr. Gilmartin concluded, “the really critical issue is that most farms actually generate very low levels of income. Perhaps that explains why such farm families are very keen to get their children to go to third level in the expectation that the farm cannot provide a decent living. The evidence is clear that almost all cattle and sheep farms do not support an income anywhere near the cut-off for third level grants.”

Banks will have to play their part in getting through looming winter fodder crisis

31st July, 2012

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, says banks have to recognise that they will have to play their part in allowing farmers to trade through the looming winter fodder crisis.  

Mr. Gilmartin made the comments following the release of a Teagasc survey, showing that 15 per cent of drystock farmers say they will be short of silage for next winter.  “There is no doubt that this is going to have a serious impact on cashflow on Irish farms.  Farmers are going to have to spend their way out of this situation, because there is no other solution to a fodder shortage other than to buy in supplementary feed.  Traditionally, straw is used as an alternative to silage – but we don’t know what the straw supply will be like because the corn hasn’t been cut yet.”

“This is where the banks come in.  They must sit up and recognise the reality of what’s happening on the farms.  They cannot continue to ignore the needs of their farming customers.  We must be allowed to access credit and trade through what we know will be a very tough winter,” Mr. Gilmartin concluded.

ICSA says beef price drops raise serious questions on beef future

31st July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association beef chairman Edmond Phelan is extremely critical of the sudden beef price drops in July, which call into question the wisdom of Food Harvest 2020 expansion targets.  “We have seen yet again that there is no real commitment by beef processors to a long-term sustainable margin for beef farmers.  Instead of partnership, trust is again breaking down.   Factories seem to look for every chance to capitalise on any weakness among sellers.”  
“The biggest weakness is when supplies increase relative to demand.  For that reason, I would have to reiterate that plans to expand beef output by 40% are pie in the sky unless we can see real evidence first that markets have expanded.  Instead we are now faced with the question- is a weekly kill of 23,000 or 24,000 too much?”
“The meat factories need to provide answers.  It is clear that price cuts in July were not due to oversupply.  It is likely that they were just taking advantage of farmers who were in a weak position.  Soft selling is always something that we try to encourage farmers away from but it’s not always easy when the weather is so atrocious.”
Mr Phelan also suggested that some soft selling is arising due to cash flow difficulties.  “I am very concerned that banks are not walking the walk in terms of supporting farmers, particularly with overdrafts and other temporary loans.  There are disturbing reports of overdraft facilities being squeezed.  Banks have no justification for this, as the farming loan book is one of the best assets in banks. A farmer who has cattle to sell should not have to sell under pressure if it is more advantageous to wait or to feed for a few weeks.  Banks need to understand this and to support it,” said Mr Phelan.  
“Unless there is a commitment from processors and banks to the sustainability of beef farming, then there will be a real question mark over the future of beef and particularly over the Food Harvest 2020 expansion plans,” he concluded. 

ICSA rejects notion of return to coupled farm payments at Sligo meeting

26th July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gilmartin, has rejected any suggestion that Ireland should return to any form of coupled payments system under the new CAP, which is currently being negotiated.  

“The reality is that decoupling has played a key role in increased livestock prices for both cattle and sheep.  While meat factories are actively supporting a return to the old systems of premia, that’s only because they want to pay less for stock.  Farmers should be very wary of going back to the old ways.”  

“Getting your Single Payment cut and then getting it back with terms and conditions attached as a suckler premium or ewe premium is potentially disastrous because it will lead to increased numbers and more control of prices for factories.  Any support scheme which artificially encourages farmers to keep more stock than the market wants can only lead to falling prices.  It’s not that long ago that farmers thought that 90p/lb was a good target for beef price.”

Mr Gilmartin was speaking at an open forum on the CAP reform negotiations, organised by ICSA, at the Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo last week, which was chaired by ICSA Connaught/Ulster vice president John Flynn and featured guest speakers Marian Harkin MEP, Michael Colreavy TD and Senator Marc Mac Sharry.  

One of the main concerns during the CAP reform talks, according to Mr. Gilmartin, is the fact that the overall EU budget has yet to be decided – and this means that we don’t know how much will be allocated to the CAP post-2013.  Ideally, the CAP reforms would be decided upon during the Irish presidency of the EU in the first half of next year – however this is looking increasingly unlikely.  Mr. Gilmartin has written to the Taoiseach seeking a meeting with him to emphasise the need to get a deal done on the CAP budget as quickly as possible.

Guest speaker, MEP Marian Harkin – who is a member of the European Parliament agriculture committee – outlined that she has received some suggestions that it might be time to return to a system of coupled payments for farmers.  ICSA was the main force behind the abolition of coupled payments in the early 2000s, a move which has been credited as being behind the increase in quality in Irish beef and the higher prices Irish cattle have been making in recent years.  Both Gabriel Gilmartin and Eddie Punch rejected outright any suggestion that going back to coupled payments as being a backward step, which would be detrimental to Irish farmers in the long run.  

Mr. Gilmartin also outlined to those at the meeting that one of the other big concerns is the desire of EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, to bring in a flat rate payment per hectare – which ICSA says, “might work in theory but not in practice”.  Mr Gilmartin said that ICSA is working to minimise cuts to the Single Payment of active farmers.  He added that increases should be targeted carefully at deserving cases rather than a flat across the board increase for those with no or low payments.  

“The problem is that an across-the-board flat rate is inefficient because it spreads payments too thinly.  It involves redistributing money to sofa farmers and speculators as well as landowners with vast tracks of land. Meanwhile, active farmers lose out.”   
ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch gave a comprehensive presentation of the current state of play in the CAP negotiations.  Mr. Punch presented case studies showing the financial effect that will be felt by Irish farmers should either the Ciolos or Santos proposals be carried – and also presented the alternative strategy being pushed by the ICSA, which would see less cuts to Single Farm Payments in Ireland, while making the payments more targeted and efficient.  

Senator Marc Mac Sharry was adamant that Commissioner Ciolos must grasp the nature of Irish farming and realise that a ‘one size fits all’ CAP will not work here.  Deputy Michael Colreavy said meeting such as last week’s were very important, as they allow the farmers themselves to have a say in the crucial CAP talks.

ICSA welcomes advance payment under 2012 Single Farm Payment scheme

25th July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gilmartin said there will be sighs of relief from farmers across the country, as he welcomed the agreement reached in Brussels today which provides for the advance payment of 50% of the Single Farm Payment.  

It means that farmers whose SFP applications have been confirmed fully clear, will receive the advance on October 16th this year, with the balance being paid out on December 1st.  

Mr. Gilmartin said, “Farmers are facing astronomical increases in feed costs for the rest of the year as a result of the bad weather, the full impact of which is yet to be seen.  I am relieved to see that the Minister for Agriculture successfully argued the case for the advance payment.”

He concluded, “it is now vitally important that every effort is made to ensure that direct payments end up in farmers’ accounts as soon as possible.”

ICSA warns against premature forecast of better beef and sheep incomes this year

24th July, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin warned that it might be premature to forecast better beef and sheep incomes for 2012.  Mr Gilmartin was reacting to Teagasc forecasts that beef and sheep income could be up due to better livestock prices.

“We have yet to see big numbers of weanlings sold, so price predictions come with a health warning.  As we have seen in recent weeks, factories are looking to take advantage of any extra supply.”

“However, the biggest issue is whether we can assess the cost impacts of the awful weather until we see how the next few months turn out.  It’s certain that feed costs, especially on cattle farms, are rocketing due to farmers having to house stock over the summer months.”

“Poor quality silage will also have a huge impact on the need to buy in extra concentrates.  It will all depend on what the autumn is like and when the winter feeding period begins.”

“Aside from feed, there is ongoing pressure on costs from fertiliser and fuel prices as well.  Again poor weather is leading to less efficient use of these inputs.”

“So overall, I would be delighted to see an increase in cattle and sheep incomes in 2012, but I’m not sure it will pan out that way.”

More positive signs for beef, says ICSA

23rd July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association beef chairman, Edmond Phelan, today (Monday) said that all the indicators are starting to look positive again for the beef trade, with signals that cattle could soon be moving to Libya and that factories are going to have to compete more aggressively to get the better quality stock.

“While some farmers were caught in a difficult situation with weather-related woes in the past few weeks, farmers now need to realise that the ball has swung back into their court and that prices could very well harden over the next few weeks.  Cattle are scarcer than ever and with some uplift in the weather, there is no need to take bad prices.”

“There are also positive moves afoot by exporters to get cattle moving to Libya, although price will be an issue.  Nonetheless, exports to Libya would have a very positive impact on putting a floor under prices for Friesians over the coming months.  I would urge Minister Coveney to be proactive in ensuring that exporters receive every assistance in getting this trade open.”

Harkin to address ICSA CAP meeting in Sligo

16th July, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is hosting a public meeting to discuss CAP reform this coming Monday night, 23rd July, in the Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo, beginning at 8.30pm.  

MEP for Ireland North West, Marian Harkin and ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin will be the main speakers at the event.  All local TDs Michael Colreavy, Tony McLoughlin and John Perry, and Senator Marc Mac Sharry have been invited to attend.  Ms. Harkin will present the latest news from the European Parliament, and ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch will deliver a detailed presentation on the current state of play in the CAP negotiations.  

The meeting will be chaired by ICSA Connaught/Ulster vice-president John Flynn, who said “I would urge all farmers to attend, as this meeting will give farmers the chance to have an input into the negotiations.  It is vital that every farmer is well-informed on how the changes to CAP post-2013 will affect their business and that they take part in the debate.”

A comprehensive and open discussion on all the issues surrounding the CAP negotiations will take place on the night and everyone is welcome to attend.

ICSA calls on farm inspectors to make allowances for difficulties caused by bad weather

13th July, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president, Gabriel Gilmartin, has issued an appeal to farm inspectors to make allowances for the serious effect the current heavy rainfall is having on farms across the country.  

Mr. Gilmartin said, “we are conscious that the Department is obliged to carry out inspections, and as such, we understand that they cannot be cancelled or postponed.  However, meeting the required standard under these weather conditions will be extremely difficult and I would really hope that the inspectors recognise this when they visit farms.”

“For example, in a lot of places poaching is at a serious level, many farmers have re-housed their cattle and land is too wet to spread slurry so tanks are full.  Heavy crops of rushes are also problematic and could mean penalties in an inspection – but the weather at the moment means they can’t be sprayed or cut.”

Mr. Gilmartin concluded, “farmers are under huge pressure just getting their work done on a day-to-day basis with the amount of rain we’re getting.  I am appealing to the inspectors, with their knowledge of farming, to take the effect of the bad weather into account.”