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Taoiseach tells Europe of urgent need to support farmers

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Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

REUTERS

Leo Varadkar

The Taoiseach has highlighted the need for urgent financial supports for farmers.

In a meeting yesterday to discuss the Covid-19 crisis, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar joined fellow leaders, and the ECB President Christine Lagarde.

In his intervention, the Taoiseach joined those calling for a swift and ambitious EU response. He welcomed the Commission’s intention to undertake a sector-by-sector analysis, and highlighted acute difficulties in agriculture resulting from a collapse in exports and prices.

He stressed the need for urgent financial support for farmers under the provisions of the CAP.

Leaders endorsed the package recently agreed by the Eurogroup - worth up to €500 billion - and asked that it be made operational by 1 June.

They also welcomed the Commission’s intention to undertake a sector-by-sector analysis on the economic impact of the crisis so as to better target supports necessary for recovery.

Earlier this week, in an attempt to ease the turmoil on European agricultural commodity markets, the European Commission announced a support package for thousands of tonnes on food to be stored.

The move, however, underwhelmed many in the industry with some even going as far as describing it 'insulting'.

It comes as the outbreak of the coronavirus has wreaked havoc in the food sector with millions of tonnes of food destined for the food service market forced elsewhere, stored or in some cases dumped altogether.

In the beef sector, while sales of mince have surged in retailers by as much as 45pc other more expensive cuts such as steaks destined for restaurants and hotels have had to be frozen and put into storage. Significantly reducing their value and seeing cattle prices slump to a ten year low here.

Such was the surge in demand for mince in Britain, Larry Goodman's ABP Group had to resort to importing mince from its Polish plants much to the annoyance for farmers here and in the UK.

In the dairy sector, product destined for the food service sector has also had to be diverted into storage or other markets.

One of Ireland's largest dairy processors Lakeland Diaries based in the border region is a significant supplier of dairy to airlines and has seen the market grind to a halt in recent weeks.

"The food service sector across Europe has suffered near wipe-out following the closure of restaurants, cafes, hotels, while airlines have grounded many planes. Food service is an important route to market for Lakeland Dairies and many dairy processors across Europe.

“Prices for butters, powders and cheeses are under significant down­ward pressure as food service milk is now flooding into powders and butter.

“Closer to home, sales of fresh milk and butter in retail outlets have increased somewhat but this increase has not offset the drop off in sales in the food service market," the company told its milk suppliers this month.

Dairy farmers have seen farmgate milk prices cut by up to 2c/L last month with further cuts likely in the months ahead.

Farmers and many in the agri-food industry have been highly critical of they see as the EU's sluggish response to the crisis.

For weeks, there had been a chorus of calls for immediate action from the agriculture and food industry which received a limited response from the European Commission.

However, over the weekend Minister for Agriculture Michael received unanimous support from his counterparts across Europe for his calls for increased actions.

That move finally saw the commission take action by providing aid to companies to store product in the hope it will be able to sell into a more stable market in the future.

However, with the budget which will be shared across 27 Member States understood to be less than €100m, many fear it will not be sufficient to calm the market.

Online Editors