Margaret Donnelly: 'It's time for Bord Bia to show leadership and empathy by scrapping farm levy'
Has the time come for the farmer levy to Bord Bia to be scrapped?
Bord Bia has been under fire from farmers - the disconnect between the state's marketing body for food and drink and the primary producers has never been so wide.
In the past few weeks, Bord Bia wrote to farmers in its Quality Assurance Scheme to clarify what it calls 'misconceptions' around the scheme.
This is no doubt to appease members, but it's unlikely to achieve much.
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The financing at Bord Bia's disposal has never been as high, yet at no time since its establishment in 1994 has Bord Bia's reliance on the statutory levy from livestock farmers been as low.
It now makes up €6m or just 8pc of the agency's overall budget, and wouldn't even pay the Bord Bia wages bill.
Meanwhile, the numerous protests over beef farmers' incomes this year highlight the difficulties being experienced at farm level right across the country.
And with most farmers in the livestock industry under unprecedented pressure this year, there is a strong case for the levy to be removed, or for the food and drink industry to pick up the burden from farmers.
In 2016, Ornua - recognising the impact of the then dairy crisis on farmers' incomes - took the bold step of suspending its farmer levy, which was worth €6m at the time.
The move wasn't going to solve the income crisis on farms, but it was a show of solidarity and empathy for the plight of farmers that seems to be currently missing in Bord Bia.
The value of food and drink exports from Ireland is over €12bn, an increase of over €4.7bn since 2010.
It's a spectacular figure, but will mean little to beef farmers when they look at their own bottom line.
As primary producers, they have been squeezed between higher input costs and static or lower farm-gate prices.
Given the level of disquiet among beef farmers, in particular over incomes, Minister Creed and Bord Bia would do well to take a leaf out of Ornua's book and lead by example.
From a farmer's point of view, such a move would demonstrate that both Government and Bord Bia understand the very real challenges facing farmers.
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