Higher advisory fees for discussion groups a concern

27th February, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) president, Gabriel Gilmartin, has said that there is widespread disquiet among drystock farmers as the realisation dawns that participation in the new beef discussion group programme will lead to substantial hikes in their annual Teagasc fees.

The concerns have emerged as many farmers are being told that they will be paying €395 per annum rather than €250, if they wish to avail of the new scheme.

“There is a widespread feeling that schemes such as AEOS and the discussion group schemed are being set up in a way designed to maximise Teagasc income at a time when the Croke Park agreement is meant to deliver a more cost effective public sector.  This has not been helped by the fact that Teagasc fees are being increased by €10-20 for 2012 on a like for like basis.

“However, the reality for many farmers is that they will have to switch from the basic Teagasc packages to the much more expensive discussion group packages.  For example, a farmer with over 100 income units, who was looking at a bill of €250 to avail of the Teagasc Plus package (one farm visit) will now have to fork out €395 in order to participate in the new discussion group scheme.

In some cases, there will also be additional up-front costs such as soil testing charges or herd health plans.  Farmers will certainly be hoping that the scheme delivers a timely payment in December.  Any repeat of the AEOS debacle, with excessive payment delays, cannot be countenanced,” said Mr Gilmartin.

However, Mr Gilmartin said that the discussion group scheme was still worthwhile and that farmers would benefit in many ways from participation. “The onus is on Teagasc and farmers to ensure that the discussion groups are well run, innovative and worthwhile.”

ICSA advises farmers to remain on high alert for Schmallenberg symptoms

27th February, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has advised farmers to remain on high alert for symptoms of Schmallenberg virus, particularly as sheep farmers face into the peak time for lambing.  He also said that farmers need to think “long and hard” about importing any livestock at this time until a fuller picture emerges on the newly discovered virus.
 
“The impact of the virus has been most pronounced in sheep flocks along the east coast of Britain, with symptoms such as dead or deformed lambs being born to apparently healthy ewes.  So far, it is understood that the disease has been transmitted by midges blown across the channel from mainland Europe and there are reasonable grounds for hoping that it won’t reach Ireland.  Nonetheless, caution is advised and farmers should report anything unusual to their vet.” 

Beef trade steadies with demand from manufacturing trade keeping cow trade strong

20th February, 2012

Livestock Price Coordinator for the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), John Cleary, has said that there has been no significant move in beef prices this week but a surge in demand from the manufacturing trade has meant a growth in the cow trade which in turn leads to a strengthening of the overall beef trade.

For a good mix of steers, the base price being quoted is €3.90 – €4.00/kg, no increase from last week and again the upper end quotes of €4/kg are more difficult to achieve as has been the case for a couple of weeks now.  Factories are quoting €4 – €4.10/kg for heifers, again no change from last week’s quotes. For a mix of U and R grade bulls, the base price is also €3.95 – €4.00/kg, a slight fall in the upper end quotes. Cows continue to the light the way for the beef trade at present.  Quotes for cows are €3.25/kg – €3.70/kg which is no change from last week but reports are that the strong cow trade is set to continue with demand for low end cuts of meat for the manufacturing trade increasing.

Commenting on this week’s trade, Mr. Cleary said: “It’s a similar enough story to last week, bulls, heifers and steers are all very solid but cows again appear to be the real winners. While there hasn’t be a significant move in the quotes being offered for cows the word on the ground is that the manufacturing trade has been crying out for low end cuts of meat that you get from the cows. There has been a huge demand for minced meat and meat of that nature that has meant the cow trade continues to do very well. This has come from the consumer budgeting and choosing minced meat over a more premium product like a steak meat. It’s good news for the farmer and should keep the cow trade positive for the foreseeable.”

ICSA calls for retention of rural schools

17th February, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) Connaught/Ulster Vice President, John Flynn, has called on the Minister of Education, Ruairi Quinn, not to close the small schools in rural Ireland

John Flynn: “The failings of the past Government and bloated bankers has meant that the education of children in the countryside has been compromised. Minister Quinn has been forced to make cost cutting measures in line with the financial constraints we are operating under but this should not be at the expense of the children of rural Ireland. As it stands, the failings of the past have dealt a death sentence to these schools and Minister Quinn should find alternative ways of cutting spending rather than focusing on the easy targets of rural schools.

“Smaller rural schools are part of the very fabric of our society and many of them are more than a century old. Implementing cuts on these schools is a direct attack on rural society in Ireland. By closing these schools, the Minister is closing decades of tradition, removing the focal point for the lives of hundreds of people and all for miniscule savings,” Mr. Flynn said.

ICSA calls for sewage treatment fairness

17th February, 2012

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) Rural Development Chairman, John Barron, has said that the Government needs to get its own house in order regarding sewage treatment rather than persecuting hard pressed rural householders with septic tanks.  “News that the EPA has found that almost half of the local authority managed waste treatment plants do not meet national or EU standards will surely outrage rural dwellers who have been pinpointed as needing to upgrade septic tanks.”

John Barron continued, “The Government appear to operate on the basis of do as I say not do as I do. The recent report from the EPA highlights that many of the country’s municipal waste water treatment plants are not up to scratch and these are the biggest causes of river pollutants in the country. This comes at a time when there is a considerable level of anxiety amongst those who will potentially be affected by problems with their septic tank system.”

“We are calling on equality from the Government on this matter. People living in the countryside are facing into a very uncertain future that could culminate with a bill of thousands of euro following the upgrade and installation of a new septic tank system. The Irish Government needs to take a long hard look at itself on this matter. How can they, with any credibility, demand Irish rural dwellers to sign up for septic tank inspections when this report proves that they are unable to take care of their own housekeeping?” Mr. Barron concluded.

Positive future for sheep sector

15th February, 2012

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) President, Gabriel Gilmartin, said that while challenging times were ahead that overall the Irish sheep sector has a very bright future.

Speaking the ICSA National Sheep Conference for 2012, Mr. Gilmartin said that a resurgence in the sector since the slowdown in the building trade has meant the sheep industry can no longer be classified as being a sunset industry. However, Mr. Gilmartin also said that one strong year does not mean that the sector is safe.

Mr. Gilmartin said: “The future is bright for the Irish sheep sector. 2011 was a very strong year with prices never too far from €5/kg but one good year does not mean that all is secure for sheep farmers. We need a number of positive years to help stem the outflow as well as offsetting the rapid escalation of input costs.

“Even though there are signs of a lot more confidence among sheep farmers, we need to ensure that the higher level of prices is not just maintained but improved over the next three or four years before we get carried away.

“When I started out in 1982, land was costing about €40/acre to rent and lambs were selling at €80.  In 2011, lambs averaged a €10 0but rental ground is going to cost €150 in 2012.

“Therefore, we need to drive on with lamb price.  What should it be?  Well, there is a lot of cost for the early producers who need exceptional prices to cover the huge costs and work associated with sponging, and lambing when many people are still digesting the Christmas excesses.  These farmers need to be beating €7/kg by a comfortable stretch if it’s to be worthwhile.

Mr Gilmartin conceded that there may be resistance to higher prices, especially in the UK where consumption fell 20% in 2011.  However, he emphasised that higher costs meant that farmers need the higher prices

Mr. Gilmatin concluded by saying that the downturn in the building industry has welcomed a number of people back to the sector: “We have seen a great deal of people return to sheep farming since the collapse of the building sector and this has been a major positive. The national flock has grown and hopefully it can continue to grow in a positive fashion. The sheep sector was at its strongest in the early ‘90s but receded with the growth of the building sector. At that time it was considered to be a sunset industry but we have witnessed a resurgence in the past few years.”

ICSA welcomes beef discussion group support

14th February, 2012

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has welcomed the announcement of the Beef Discussion Group scheme payment by Minister Coveney last night (Monday 13th February) as an innovative scheme, which will pay a huge dividend to the state through increased technical efficiency and greater output on cattle farms.  Mr Gilmartin said that he had been a strong advocate of payment for participation in discussion groups by the drystock sector and he had made it a key issue at the Food Harvest 2020 discussions.

He said that the menu approach was the correct one where farmers would have a choice of measures to implement.  “Given that the funding available is €5 million, which will allow for €1,000 payments to 5,000 farmers we have to ensure that we get the money to the most committed and progressive farmers.  When resources are scarce, it makes sense to target those who want to help themselves and who are trying to make progress.  On the other hand, the range of options means that there is no real barrier to participation by committed farmers who are intent on improving their efficiency levels and learning from the discussion group process.”

“This is a real value for money scheme for the state and it is critical that funding is made available for the next three years.  In the longer term, it is obvious that a scheme like this will be very well placed to qualify for Pillar 2 funding under the CAP reform proposals.”

Mr Gilmartin welcomed the fact that the scheme would be open to private agricultural advisors as well as Teagasc consultants.

He was particularly pleased that there is considerable emphasis on better breeding and better grassland, two areas where there is major scope for improvement on suckler farms.

Cows strengthen as remainder of trade steadies

14th February, 2012

Livestock Price Coordinator for the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), John Cleary, has said that despite a strengthening in the cow trade, the overall factory beef trade is on a par with last week.

For a good mix of steers, the base price being quoted is €3.90 – 4.00/kg, there has been an increase of 10c on the upper quotes for steers from last week but these are difficult to achieve. Factories are quoting €4- €4.10/kg for heifers, no change from last week. For a mix of U and R grade bulls, the base price is also €3.95 – €4.05/kg, a slight fall from this time last week. Cows have had a strong week and the quotes from the factories reflect this. Quotes for cows range from  €3.30/kg for average cows right up to €3.70/kg for in spec animals.

Commenting on this week’s trade, Mr. Cleary said: “It’s steady as she goes this week for the beef trade. Steers are up a small bit, bulls are down and there’s no change with the heifers so it really does average itself out. The one area bucking the trend is that of the cow trade. There has been a move of 5-15c for cows which is fantastic news. The old adage is that the cow trade is the barometer for the rest of the beef trade so there are positive signs after a few weeks of uncertainty and price falls. Industry experts have alluded to me this week that the cow trade is set to continue very strongly for the best part of the year so there are reasons to be cheerful.”

ICSA concerned about Government cutbacks on co-funding rural development

6th February, 2012

ICSA rural development chairman John Barron has expressed concern over government plans to avail of an EU concession to draw down rural development funds at an 85% co-funding rate rather than 50 or 55% as at present.  Mr Barron pointed out that this would lead to less funds being spent on rural development programmes such as LEADER and would facilitate the Government in winding down programmes such as the early retirement scheme, as well as dashing any prospects of reopening schemes such as the Young Farmer Installation aid.

“The key to understanding this is that the actual ceiling of EU money is fixed.  Therefore, when you switch to 85% EU funding/ 15% exchequer funding, rather than a 50:50 mix, the outcome is a substantially lower amount of co-funding from the Government, not a higher amount of EU funding.”

“My bigger concern is that the government is signalling its longer term intention to reduce all rural development funds.  While this decision only applies to Axes 1, 3 and 4, the message seems clear- Ireland is winding down exchequer funding for all future rural development schemes.  Although Axis 2, covering agri-environment schemes is unaffected for now, CAP negotiations for the post 2013 period are underway and we are trying to make the case for more rural development funding from the EU.”

“However, we have absolutely no credibility looking for increased or even similar levels of EU rural development funds if we are also saying that we can make do with less.  Even if we were to successfully negotiate higher RD funds from Europe, the risk is that the Government will want to retain the 85% rate of EU co-funding leading to a lower overall fund available for RD schemes.”  

Meanwhile, the effect of the decision on the current programme covering 2007-2013, is a €200 million reduction in spend in the rural economy. This cut is achieved by a reduction in the total amount of funding available under Axis 1 by some €87 million and by €113 million under Axes 3 and 4.  This is a huge cutback to rural communities all over the country and will have a substantial knock-on effect on the economy.

“Again, the Government has shown that it is heavy on austerity but light on job creation and economic stimulus,” concluded Mr Barron.

ICSA seminar to focus on sheep prospects

6th February, 2012

The prospects for the sheep trade is the focus of a major seminar next week which will feature speakers from Bord Bia, the UK based National Sheep Association, Kepak and the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland.  The seminar, hosted by ICSA, will take place on Monday, February 13th in the Lord Bagenal Hotel, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow.  Proceedings begin with lunch at 1pm, and the event will conclude at 5pm.

ICSA sheep chairman Paul Brady said that the upturn in sheep in 2011 had led to a renewed interest in the sector and it was vital for farmers to have a better understanding of where the business was going.  “The seminar will hopefully give solid answers to farmers who want to know what the prospects are in the short to medium term.

The line-up of speakers is:
• Declan Fennell, Sheep Specialist, Bord Bia
• Bob Cahill, Kepak, Hacketstown,
• Phil Stocker, Chief Executive, UK National Sheep Association
• Laz Murphy, Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland
• Eric Driver, Assistant Manager, Tullow Livestock Mart
• Catherine O’Leary, Veterinary Advisor, MSD Animal Health
• Gabriel Gilmartin, President, ICSA

The fee for the seminar is €15 (booked in advance, €20 on the day), which covers lunch, teas/ coffee and refreshments,  & conference papers.  Advance booking is essential, and ICSA is urging farmers to book as soon as possible as numbers are limited.

ICSA wishes to acknowledge the support and help of Kepak, MSD Animal Health Ireland, Nutribio/ CAHL, BFL Nutrition, Volac Ireland O’Donovan Engineering and Tullow Livestock Mart.