IFA president Tim Cullinan urges people not to relax just because everyone is currently spending more time at home
IFA’s priority in dealing with the challenge of Covid-19 is about safeguarding farms, and safeguarding farming.
I will set out later in this piece what is needed to support farmers through this crisis. Before I do, it’s important to remind ourselves what we have to do to stay safe and mind our health.
The tragedy in Co Clare last week brings farm safety front and centre. We would normally talk about this in advance of the school holidays, but these are not normal times.
With children off school at present and with some older ones helping out on farms, we are seeing the very best of the Irish farm family model at work during this crisis to keep the food supply chain moving.
However, this also increases the need for total vigilance regarding farm safety.
A farm can be a wonderful place for children, where independence and responsibility are fostered. The Irish family farm is at the centre of our food supply chain, the security of which has never been more important.
However, it can also be a dangerous place where the unthinkable can happen in a matter of seconds.
Now is a good time to review your farm safety and ask is there a safer way?
With children off school due to the coronavirus, this is a high-risk time on Irish farms. Use these points to protect children on the farm and from the coronavirus.
In terms of protecting themselves, it’s crucially important that farmers take all necessary precautions to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19. It is important that farmers follow all hygiene and self-isolation protocols and keep up to speed with HSE advice.
For many who are unfortunate enough to contract the virus, it will lead to relatively mild illness, but for some it may be more severe.
For any farmer who is unable to farm, it’s important that someone can step in to assist. IFA has devised a dedicated ‘Plan B’ document, which helps farmers compile the essential information that would be needed where someone else has to step in to run the farm if the farmer contracts Covid-19, or has to go into social isolation.
This document is available on IFA’s dedicated Covid-19 Hub, which contains up-to-date information on topics such as health and safety, banking and tax and social welfare.
Let me return to the impact of the crisis on farming.
The package announced by EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski last week will not be nearly enough to support agriculture, particularly beef farmers, through the current crisis.
I held a meeting via teleconference of European farm leaders with the Commissioner through the European farmers’ umbrella body COPA.
While the Aids to Private Storage (APS) Scheme is an acknowledgement of the problems facing the sector, the funding won’t be sufficient.
The financial crisis for beef finishers as a result of the COVID-19 beef price collapse is so severe that a much more substantial financial package involving market supports and direct payment aid is required.
The food service market has collapsed and this has had a very damaging effect, given the export orientation of our beef production.
I am concerned that the EU Commission appears to be taking agriculture and the food supply chain for granted. Farmers and all those in the chain have been working very hard to keep food on the table, but beef farmers are now in crisis and dairy markets are under severe pressure,
We believe the increased cost of storage, for beef and dairy product, has not been adequately taken into account in the scheme.
We need our Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to push for a significant increase in the Commission allocation. It was important that the Taoiseach raised the need for further EU support at the European Council meeting last week.
The Government must also look at its own resources to help beef farmers. State aid limits have been increased which would allow them to step in and help beef finishers in particular, who are being wiped out financially at current prices.
IFA has put detailed proposals to Minister Creed and the Department of Agriculture to immediately introduce a direct payment aid scheme for beef finishers, utilising unused funds from last year’s BEAM scheme
In addition to the work we are doing on behalf of our members, IFA has joined forces with other organisations and associations on initiatives that benefit its members and the wider community.
We are a leading member of the Government’s “Community Call” initiative which brings together state and voluntary resources to combat the effects of Covid-19. Each local authority has a dedicated helpline and IFA is part of the official community support network in each local authority.
We worked with FBD to establish a fund for farmers unable to carry out farm work due to COVID-19, a €500 Farm Relief Service voucher will be provided to assist in keeping farms operational during this busy period
Mental Health Ireland, IFA and Teagasc have partnered to co-host and co-deliver information and resources for farmers during the month of April. Entitled ‘Farming Resilience’ the aim is to support farmers and their families through the challenges being posed by COVID-19. The service will look at some practical evidence-based ways to support personal and business resilience.
I have been very impressed with the spirit and solidarity shown by farm families at this time. I would encourage everybody to maintain their efforts to get to us beyond this crisis.