As the income crisis deepens across all farming sectors, the IFA is sending a clear message to the Government that urgent action is needed.
Driven by a combination of poor prices, barriers to cashflow, lack of retail regulation, and high input costs, farm incomes are under extreme pressure.
IFA elected officers will tomorrow meet with government and opposition TDs and senators from around the country to brief them on the dire situation facing farmers.
We will meet Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed later this week to spell out the steps necessary here and in Brussels to deliver positive change for farmers.
Payments and supports
Direct payments make up a significant element of farm income, particularly for drystock and tillage farmers.
There is an opportunity for the minister to boost income by raising the number of GLAS entrants to over 50,000 and by bringing forward the Government commitment to increase ANC payments to the upcoming Budget.
A 70% advance on the basic payment in October is also needed to help cashflow.
The beef and sheep sectors make a significant contribution to Irish economic growth, through export growth and employment. However, farmers are not receiving a fair and sustainable income from these enterprises.
The minister must immediately act to secure the viability of these sectors, which are vital to local economies particularly in marginal areas.
We will be making a strong case for the re-opening of Beef Data and Genomics Programme to applicants this year and for an increase in funding in Budget 2017. The Government’s commitment to €25m for a new sheep scheme, which is essential to maintain our national ewe flock, must be promptly acted on.
The scheme must be simple, effective and it must impose minimal bureaucracy and costs on farmers.
The income crisis on farms is compounded by a clear market failure in the Irish financial sector.
The cost of financing short-term working capital is very high, with average quoted rates for overdraft facilities of 8% and higher rates for merchant credit.
The EU Agriculture Council has recognised the need to address cashflow pressures on farms with provision for State Aid through low interest loans or loan guarantees.
Urgent action is now needed by the Government to provide low-cost short- term loans to alleviate cashflow pressures across all sectors.
Both Farm Assist and the Rural Social Scheme are vital supports for low income farmers. The review of Farm Assist promised in the new Programme for Government must reinstate the income and child disregards abolished by the previous minister.
Their abolition had a dramatic effect on the qualification criteria for Farm Assist and with farm incomes under severe strain across most sectors, it is important that changes are made and the assessment process carried out in a fair way reflecting the volatility of farm incomes.
The Rural Social Scheme is a vital community employment initiative, particularly in areas where job opportunities are limited. The number of places on the scheme must be doubled from 2,600 and flexibility must be put in place on the eligibility criteria to reach out to other low-income farmers.
Strong stance in Brussels
Farmers need government support for stronger EU legislation to tackle the dominance of retailers and wholesalers in the food supply chain.
I chaired a meeting of the Copa Working Group on the Food Chain last week, at which farming organisations called for an EU-wide approach so Irish and other EU farmers have protection from the existing exploitation in the supply chain.
IFA needs government support for the campaign that we are leading for the abolition of EU import tariffs on fertilisers to deliver a price reduction for farmers on key inputs. A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute, commissioned by the IFA, clearly shows a failure of competition in the fertiliser market, costing European farmers up to €1bn.
A strong Government stance is required to support the abolition which will deliver between €50m and €70m in annual savings for Irish farmers.
Farmers also need to see our government take a strong stance against damaging trade deals. There can be no concessions on sensitive products in Mercosur, in particular they must be vigilant against the reintroduction of an offer on beef.
On the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), our Government must insist that the EU demands equivalence of standards on all important and that they must meet the same animal health, welfare, traceability and environmental standards required of EU producers.
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