Battle lines drawn on €100m beef bailout fund

Farm leaders demand that factory-controlled feedlots are excluded from EU aid package

Stock image: PA
Stock image: PA

Declan O’Brien

Sharp divisions over the share-out of the €100m Brexit beef package emerged this week, with the farm organisations expressing divergent views over who should qualify for supports.

While the IFA and INHFA insisted that the aid package should be targeted at beef and suckler farmers, the ICMSA and ICOS maintained that prices for calves and store cattle also took a serious hit over the last nine months and that these producers also deserved to be compensated.

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All of the farm organisations were adamant that factory-controlled feedlots should not get a payout under the aid package.

Privately, however, farmer representatives admitted that excluding these units from receiving supports could be problematic.

A capping mechanism could therefore be required to limit payments to factory feedlots and large-scale finishers, farmer representatives conceded. Details on how the support package will be allocated were not available this week, but IFA and ICSA called for the monies to be paid out without delay.

ICSA beef chairman, Edmund Graham, said payments to farmers should be completed by the end of July, and warned that any delay until autumn would be unacceptable.

It is estimated that around 800,000 prime cattle - young bulls, heifers and steers - were killed in the six months from the start of September to the end of March.

While industry sources accept that a straight payment per head of €125 on all prime cattle would be the simplest mechanism for allocating the €100m, farmer representatives say that such an approach would:

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■ Direct 20pc of the funds to factory controlled feedlots;

■ Target the bulk of the funds to large-scale finishers;

■ Exclude suckler and store producers from the aid package.

IFA president, Joe Healy, said the allocation of the €100m to the farmers was critically important.

"It must take account of the farmers who incurred the beef price losses and the income situation," Mr Healy said.

"It is very clear that the farmers who sold finished cattle since last September and suckler producers are the two groups who were hit the hardest," he added.

This view was shared by Colm O'Donnell of the INHFA who claimed that cattle prices were back at least €100/head on where they were in 2017 and this was the minimum payment needed.

However, ICMSA leader, Pat McCormack, maintained that prices from calves to weanlings and stores took a serious hit since 2018 and he insisted that the support package must recognise this fact and ensure that all such producers receive payments.

Meanwhile, ICOS has called for an urgent meeting with Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, to ensure that the scheme includes compensation for farmers who traded animals through livestock marts.

"Undoubtedly beef finishers have had a disastrous 2018 and 2019 but so too did sellers of weanlings, forward stores and cull cows. It will not be acceptable that this compensation could be directed to a handful of factory agents if this scheme amounts to slaughter only assistance," said Ray Doyle of ICOS.

"With the Animal Identification and Movement System it will be possible to ascertain the ownership and trading history of animals before they have been presented for slaughter. While the funds are finite, their distribution must be fair to all producers in the beef chain," he added.

“It must take account of the farmers who incurred the beef price losses and the income situation,” Mr Healy said.

“It is very clear that the farmers who sold finished cattle since last September and suckler producers are the two groups who were hit the hardest.”

This view was shared by Colm O’Donnell of the INHFA who claimed that cattle prices were back at least €100/head in 2018-19 compared to 2017 and this was the minimum payment needed.

However, ICMSA leader Pat McCormack said prices from calves to weanlings and stores took a serious hit since 2018 and he insisted that the support package must recognise this fact and ensure that all such producers receive payments.

Meanwhile, ICOS has called for an urgent meeting with Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to ensure that the scheme includes compensation for farmers who traded animals through the marts.

“Beef finishers have had a disastrous 2018 and 2019 but so too did sellers of weanlings, forward stores and cull cows. It will not be acceptable that this compensation could be directed to a handful of factory agents if this scheme amounts to slaughter-only assistance,” said Ray Doyle of ICOS.

“With the Animal Identification and Movement System it will be possible to ascertain the ownership and trading history of animals before they have been presented for slaughter.

“While the funds are finite, their distribution must be fair to all producers in the beef chain.”

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