Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Farm groups call for second round of low cost loans

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

FARM bodies are calling for a second round of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland’s (SBCI’s) €150m low-cost loan scheme for cash-strapped farmers.

The ICMSA, IFA and ICSA all stress that changes in qualification criteria must be considered in any potential new round.

The Agriculture Cash-flow Support Loan Scheme, developed by the Department ofAgriculture and SBCI, made money available to around 4,000 farmers at low-cost interest rates of 2.95pc.

The cheap loans system, made available through AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank, was over subscribed within a month of opening last February.

The average loan size under the scheme was €32,000, with beef and dairy farmers dominating the applications submitted.

However, farm bodies and debt resolution experts in the agri sector contend that many farmers most in need of financial assistance were “ruled out” of the scheme.

Lorcan McCabe, chairperson of ICMSA’s farm business committee said: “We would like to see a more targeted approach for a second tranche that goes past a superficial balance sheet and looks instead at the capacity of an individual to farm his or her way out of the difficulty.

“There’s undoubtedly a group of farmers out there under financial pressure and a restructured loan over a longer period at a low interest rate would allow them to farm their way out of trouble — maybe a second tranche should be focused in that direction.” Bank of Ireland managed €65m under the scheme — the largest allocation of the three participating banks — more than €39m of this has already been issued.

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The loans can only be used to refinance existing overdrafts, merchant credit facilities or investments made from day-to-day cash flows.

The loans cannot be used to refinance existing term loans or new investments.

Seamus Sherlock, ICSA rural development chairman urged the SBCI to give farmers an opportunity to contribute to the terms and conditions of a new tranche.

“If there is another round we’d be pushing that farm groups be brought on board to give ideas on how to ensure farmers most in need are not overlooked again,” he said.

Last month it emerged that farmers who were drawing down the loans through Ulster Bank were being charged a 1pc handling fee.

Martin Stapleton, IFA national farm business committee, said: “Overall it was very worthwhile but there were some problems and disappointment with Ulster Bank for charging the 1pc but we’ll certainly be calling for a second round”.

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