HOGAN PROPOSALS ON SUCKLERS DESERVE CAREFUL CONSIDERATION

ICSA suckler chairman John Halley has said that comments by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan suggesting a payment for farmers wishing to exit the suckler sector need careful consideration. “Suckler farming is delivering unacceptably low margins because of the ongoing inability of the meat industry to deliver a viable price. Excess supply of cattle is being used by meat factories to drive down price. Therefore, policy proposals to encourage farmers to keep more suckler cows than they would otherwise do are doomed to failure.”

“ICSA has consistently pointed out that coupled payments do not work because they are simply a way of ensuring cheap supplies to processors and retailers. It has now got to the stage that a voluntary scheme to reduce numbers makes more sense.  ICSA made this argument a few years ago and it is interesting that we are now being listened to. Our view is that such a scheme would be voluntary, would involve payments over a five year period, and would reflect the average number of cows calved over a three year period. ”

“However, for the proposal to work, we need to consider real alternative options for those farmers who want to exit sucklers.   While there are undoubtedly farmers who want to leave because of age, ICSA believes that it is now time to look at putting the right policies in place to make renewable energy a viable alternative for farmers. The current policy framework is not working and there is a massive missed opportunity to develop renewable energy options such as anaerobic digesters and solar panels.”

“ICSA also wants to see a much better agri-environment scheme. What we need is a scheme that is a lot more like REPS and a lot less like GLAS. The key is that those who participate must be financially better off than those that don’t and in a way which takes account of the opportunity and labour costs of being in an agri-environment scheme.   It is total hypocrisy to demand that policy responds to the so-called Green Wave across Europe if farmers are expected to deliver all sorts of societal goals relating to climate change and biodiversity while meeting the cost out of their own pocket and working for free.”

“We also need to look at training and assistance for farmers who leave suckling to take up new enterprises. This applies to other farm enterprises as well as to alternative rural enterprises. Training for off-farm employment should also be part of the package.”

“ICSA believes that there can be a bright future for sucklers.  But this will require a determined effort to get PGI status for suckler beef and a strategy to market it as a high value niche product in terms of animal welfare and natural farming methods.   The future of sucklers is also dependent on increased live exports to countries like Italy, Greece and Turkey.   However, it is far from clear that there is room for the current number of suckler cows especially as the meat industry sees more suckler cows as central to their strategy to drive down price.  Hence, it is time for an honest debate around the proposal to provide a voluntary exit package for some so that the remaining suckler farmers can prosper.”

ENDS