The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) says there are currently 18,000 farmers who are not achieving the 5% reduction requirement in the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) scheme and the discrepancy could see them having to hand back as much as €40m out of €77m in the scheme as a result.
The organisation’s president, Tim Cullinan said the requirement was “flawed” in the first instance and the matter has been worsened because marts have been curtailed under Covid-19 restrictions and farmers are unable to engage as normal with their advisers.
“This must be recognised,” Mr Cullinan added before pointing out that he had a “constructive and frank discussion” with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue on the 5% reduction in BEAM earlier this week.
“€77m paid to 33,000 beef and suckler farmers for the market disruption between September 2018 and May 2019 caused by the devaluation of sterling arising from the Brexit vote must be safeguarded.
“The primary objective must be to get a speedy resolution to this issue that protects this vital support for farmers, and avoids any market disruption caused by farmers trying to play catch up to meet the 5% reduction.”
Meanwhile, Declan Hanrahan, Vice Chairman of the IFA Livestock Committee highlighted how the period of time over which farmers were expected to reduce their stock numbers “has been severely disrupted by Covid-19 controls and Brexit uncertainty”.
“Under this cloud, it’s unreasonable to expect farmers to make these changes to their farming practices,” he continued.
“Over this time, the mart service, which is the trusted and most used means for animal sales for farmers, operated in a very different and challenging environment for farmers and mart managers.
“The ability of farmers to meet this measure was further impeded by the lack of clear, up to date and easy to follow guidance on herd performance in meeting the target from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the constraints through Covid-19 controls on engaging with their farm advisers.
“Under the circumstances, it’s unreasonable to expect suckler and beef farmers to make fundamental changes to their farming systems to meet the 5% reduction requirement.
“We have to avoid a situation where farmers who signed up to the scheme in good faith are penalised when they cannot meet the conditions due to the extreme circumstances.”