“The ICSA reserves its position on the entire report due to the lack of concrete commitments around funding for the measures. The ICSA is not supportive of measures which lead to reduced output, in the absence of a coherent plan to support viable suckler, beef and sheep systems. ICSA will only engage further if there is a commitment from the relevant ministers (agriculture, climate and public expenditure) to sit down with the Beef Vision group to negotiate a way forward.
The report provides no reassurances that the government wishes to see the suckler, sheep and beef sectors prosper or even stabilise. This is unacceptable from a political perspective, and unwise from a strategic planning perspective.
Instead, it represents a set of ideas put forward exclusively by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and therefore is essentially an internal document, to which stakeholders have been given an opportunity to comment but not to negotiate.
ICSA understands the challenges posed by the demands for climate change action and the need to further develop our international reputation as a supplier of leading quality meat and dairy. The success of farmers in working through the financial crash and growing agrifood exports to €15.4 billion cannot be sacrificed and this means that only win:win solutions should be included in a coherent strategy.
It is evident that this report, and the wider Climate Action Plan is meaningless without a financial framework. No sector is being asked to do as much per capita as some 100,000 livestock farmers yet all other sectors have access to funding either in terms of subsidies to consumers or grant aid to companies. In all other cases, the burden will be shared either by the taxpayer or by passing on costs to consumers or both.
Further engagement will only work with all the relevant ministers at the negotiating table.
No plan is acceptable unless the economic viability of sucklers, beef and sheep is addressed in a comprehensive manner.”
ICSA has made the following key demands as a pathway towards an agreed plan:
- The way forward must address the outcomes needed to make beef viable again or else the entire dairy sector will become untenable. Price of beef is central to this, particularly for winter finishing but it will also depend on appropriate supports.
- Additional funding is needed to drive on the Suckler Premium Strategy. This must entail leveraging the significant level of DNA data already available as a plan to authenticate Irish suckler grass-fed beef and drive a higher return from the marketplace. A feasibility study should be conducted into opportunities for farmers to sell beef under a suckler brand through the mechanism of a co-op structure with a view to shareholders retaining value throughout the food chain. Farmers will also require a commitment from the Beef Processing Industry to work with this strategy.
- The Suckler Scheme, backed by €28 million announced in the budget, must be delivered in 2023 and the proposal by ICSA for earlier calving funding should be seen as an addition to that scheme. In effect, we want to see 3 support packages for sucklers that will equate to at least €300/cow, and which will be in place for the long-term so that farmers who remain in suckler production are supported with more funds per cow than those who exit either dairy or sucklers.
- The importance of sheep farming must be considered. Sheep farming is the vital enterprise on a lot of marginal land and hill areas and must be supported more. Moreover, sheep farming is complementary to beef farming systems and can actually make some farms more sustainable, bringing both environmental (weed control, better utilisation of pasture, less winter housing) and economic benefits. Therefore, the meagre €12/ewe must be radically reviewed, and the plan must include measures to make sheep farming more viable.
Dermot Kelleher, ICSA National President