EU Solidarity Fund vital before arrival of winter

The European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) can be mobilised when a region experiences a disaster with serious, lasting repercussions on living conditions and economic stability.

The EUSF was created after the floods which affected central Europe during the summer of 2002. It grants financial aid of up to €1bn a year to EU member states and accession countries affected by major natural disasters.

ICMSA president, John Comer, wants the Government — specifically, Minister Coveney — to make an application on the grounds that weather over the past 12 months and the consequent fodder crisis constitutes an extraordinary event of the category that the EUSF was specifically set up to address.

“Since August 2012 ICMSA has repeatedly argued that the Government should access the EU Solidarity Fund to assist farmers battling with the current fodder crisis. Ireland secured over €13m from the fund after flooding in 2009. The same should apply at present because we are dealing with an extraordinary event at the present time. Rainfall levels nearly three times the normal levels surely represents an extraordinary event,” said Mr Comer, referring to the past 12 months of bad weather which have left farmers struggling to feed livestock.

“It is also important that people realise that even when the weather improves and grass starts to grow, this does not mean the end of the fodder crisis. There are absolutely no fodder reserves left in Ireland at this stage, so securing sufficient fodder for next winter is going to be a major task for farmers and the country. The financial challenge of paying the massive feed bills which have built up since last summer is likely to take a number of years for many farmers and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine needs to realise this fact.”

*When the government successfully applied for EUSF aid of €13m after the 2009 floods, it estimated total direct costs arising from the floods at €520.9 million. Could the fodder crisis cost that much?

>>“It is extremely difficult to put an actual cost on the fodder crisis given its complexity and different levels: the increased cost of feed, the increase in the level of cattle fatalities, the reduction in milk production and reduced performance of cattle and crops to the damage to land and the cost of re-instatement. As an example, ICMSA estimates that the reduction in milk production in the 2012/13 quota year cost dairy farmers in the region of €70m while the increased level of cattle fatalities cost farmers in the region of €20m since January 2013. Thus, ICMSA believes that the losses not only to farmers but the whole Irish economy are very substantial.”

*Are there many examples of member states getting EUSF aid for their farmers?

>>“There are numerous examples of member states getting EUSF aid for farmers and they are usually part of an overall application in relation to a natural disaster. For example, in 2009, Cyprus, France, Romania and Italy received aid for their farm sectors from the fund.”

*Is the Government running out if time to apply to the EUSF?

>>“Under the rules, a Government must make an application within 10 weeks of the onset of a disaster. ICMSA believes that the Government needs to take a decision on this matter and let farmers know if they are willing to make an application. From a farmers’ perspective, the financial and farm management problems are growing by the day and this has been particularly the case since early March.”

*What response have you got from your requests to the Taoiseach to apply to the EUSF?

>>“ICMSA met with An Taoiseach two weeks ago and we spelt out the pressures facing farmers at this time and the need for Ireland to make an application to the EU Solidarity Fund. The Taoiseach undertook to speak to the Agriculture Minister on the matter and we are awaiting a response.”

*How much EUSF aid does ICMSA think Ireland could get for fodder crisis relief?

>>“The EUSF specifically deals with disasters and we believe that the last twelve months has been a disaster for farmers. A clear assessment of the losses suffered by the sector would be required and ICMSA believes that this can be done by seeking data from Co-ops and independent millers, financial institutions and the knackery services. While it is difficult to put a precise figure on what Ireland would get, we believe that it would be substantial and would assist the recovery of the sector and farm families — many of whom are at breaking point — in both financial and mental health contexts at this time.”


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