Beef bailout battle moves up a gear

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Reuters
EU Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Reuters
ICMSA President Pat McCormack.

Declan O'Brien and Martin Ryan

The battle for access to the €100m Brexit Beef Fund moved up a gear this week as the ICMSA insisted dairy farmers could not be excluded from the package, and the IFA told members that compensation levels could be under €100/hd.

ICMSA officials claimed that the exclusion of dairy farmers from the aid package had been floated in preliminary discussions on the distribution of the fund.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack rejected what he described as discrimination against dairy farmers who had suffered Brexit-related losses on beef.

"A very significant number of dairy farmers also have a beef enterprise and the suggestion that their losses should be ignored is nothing less than a disgrace," Mr McCormack said.

The aid package was given the green light in Brussels last Thursday, and Agriculture minister Michael Creed has until the end of July to finalise how it will operate.

While there has been some controversy regarding the requirement in the draft regulation for farmer applicants to reduce beef production, this was being downplayed by Government sources this week.

The reduction requirement was "not prescriptive" and there was "no reason to believe that it would be overly onerous", the Farming Independent was told.

The requirement would only relate to "one or two cows", and would just be for two years, at which point numbers could be reinstated, one official maintained.

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However, it is generally accepted that the distribution of the aid package will be politically fraught for Minister Creed.

At meetings last week the IFA admitted that compensation from the fund may be considerably less than the €100/hd on which the original claim was based.

The IFA's Angus Woods told a meeting on the aid package in Limerick that the €100m fund "will only cover a percentage of the losses incurred - it won't cover the full loss" producers suffered.

The meeting heard that the original demand was based on the number of animals slaughtered at the export plants up to March 23, which was the latest date for which official statistics were available at that time.

An extension of the relevant period beyond this date could increase the size of the kill from 880,000 to over 1.1m head.

Commission 'agenda'

Meanwhile, the INHFA has warned that the EU Commission could base future supports for the beef sector on further reductions in the suckler herd.

INHFA president Colm O'Donnell outlined how by using Article 221 as opposed to Article 219, the Commission can come back with further funding in coming years.

"While this may seem appealing especially in the context of a Brexit outcome that we are still not sure of, it also leaves the door open to revisit further reductions," said Mr O'Donnell.

"In this scenario the Commission could deliver substantial reductions in our suckler herds by tweaking regulations and targeting money as required. Our opinion is that the Commission have already shown their intent in looking for a reduction so we have to assume that their agenda is more about the reduction and restructuring of our suckler industry rather than help."

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