Irish sheep and suckler sector in urgent need of EU relief

With three out of every four sheep and suckler farmers earning less than minimum wage, the sector urgently needs EU relief, greater access to live exports and a review of the retail price, says ICSA president Patrick Kent.

The ICSA wants Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to ensure cattle and sheep farmers get a fair share of the Brussels rescue package, which it says favours dairy over other sectors. ICSA also says consumers would be shocked by how little the farmer gets from beef and lamb retail prices.

The ICSA was reacting to Teagasc’s report on the viability of Irish farms. Teagasc defines viability as minimum agricultural wage plus 5% return on investment. Only 37% of Irish farms were viable in 2015, while another 29% were only made viable by farmers working a second off-farm job.

“While Brussels has moved heaven and earth to deal with the dairy crisis, the Teagasc figures again emphasise that the cattle and sheep sectors are in real trouble,” said Patrick Kent.

“This emphasises that ICSA is absolutely correct to insist that the latest Brussels bail-out package cannot be exclusively for dairy farmers. While 2015 was a tough year for dairy farmers with only 76% viable, this pales in comparison with only 20% viable suckler farms, 28% beef and 26% sheep. It is outrageous that the height of our ambitions for farmers is the minimum wage when you realise most farmers are highly experienced and skilled.”

The Teagasc report shows that relatively few sheep and suckler farmers have access to off-farm work to boost their viability level.

More than 40% of beef and sheep and 36% of suckler farms are designated vulnerable as there is no off-farm income, while the on-farm income does not deliver viability.

“These are disgraceful statistics. Greedy processors and retailers should hang their heads in shame,” said Mr Kent. “Retailers must address this issue in terms of their corporate social responsibility objectives and to explain to consumers why they are happy to exploit farmers in such a disgusting fashion.”

The ICSA is also urging Minister Creed to prioritise access to live exports markets and the restoration of the full disadvantaged area payment (now called ANC).

Meanwhile, IFA livestock chairman Angus Woods is seeking the immediate reopening of the Beef Data and Genomic Programme for suckler farmers. He said farmers in the scheme are receiving their genotype testing tags for 2016 and this would be the ideal time to reopen the scheme to allow in new entrants and farmers who originally withdrew from the scheme last year.

Angus Woods said funding is not an issue, as Minister Creed has already said he is committed to spending the full €300m allocated to the scheme, which would accommodate up to 30,000 farmers. There are presently only 25,000 farmers in the scheme.

IFA wants an extra €25m in Budget 2017 plus unused funds from the Knowledge Transfer Programme to be used for suckler supports.


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