Beef finishers the big winners from Brexit bailout fund

Top 3pc will receive close on €10,000 each compared to an average payment of €1,400

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. Photo: Arthur Carron
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. Photo: Arthur Carron

Margaret Donnelly and Declan O'Brien

Beef finishers are set to be the big winners from the EU and Government's Beef Brexit bailout fund.

In total, there are 71,500 eligible farmers entitled to an average payment of €1,423 each, but the share-out of the fund will prove controversial.

While 2,200 beef finishers (3pc of the total) are eligible to €21.5m, or an average payment of €9,741, draft proposals from the Department of Agriculture indicate that two-thirds of the qualifying farmers (47,000) will get an average of just €759 each.

The conditions attached to the fund have also led to unease among farm leaders.

Farmers who do not cut stock numbers by 5pc in 2020-21 could have payments from the €100m fund clawed back from their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), Government sources have conceded.

The package announced last week by the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed is open to beef finishers and suckler farmers, but factory controlled feedlots and dairy farmers are excluded.

Stock slaughtered between September 24 last year and May 6 this year will be eligible for a payment of €100/hd to a maximum of 100 animals.

Similarly, suckler cows that calved last year will qualify for a €40/hd payment - to a limit of 40 cows.

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Controversially, the conditions of the aid package demand that production of "manure nitrogen" on farms that receive compensation under the fund must be reduced by 5pc in 2020-21 relative to 2018-19. This is effectively a 5pc cut in stock numbers.

In addition, participating farms must be either quality assured or in an environmental scheme such as GLAS or AEOS.

The ICMSA has reacted angrily to the proposal to exclude dairy farmers from the aid measure.

"Many dairy farmers have operated a beef enterprise for decades and have suffered severe losses over the last 12 months due to Brexit," said ICMSA president Pat McCormack.

"Any farmer who suffered a Brexit-related loss on beef production is entitled to compensation from this fund, whether dairy, beef, full time or part time," the ICMSA leaded added.

This view was supported by the IFA, with association president Joe Healy insisting that beef cattle from farms with a dairy enterprise must also qualify for compensation payments.

It is understood that negotiations are continuing between the Department and the ICMSA regarding the issue.

However, while accepting that a final decision had not been made, informed sources pointed out that the inclusion of dairy herds in the package would be "challenging" and result in a 30pc increase in the number of eligible animals - and a consequent 30pc reduction in payments to suckler farmers and beef finishers.

One official questioned how the 5pc reduction in "manure nitrogen" would be delivered by dairy units.

Meanwhile, it has been conceded that farmers who do not achieve the 5pc reduction in their holding's "manure nitrogen" output could face a clawback on their BPS for any monies paid out under the Beef Brexit Fund.

A Government source said the Department would "obviously engage with the farmers involved initially", but he admitted that clawing back the funds from the BPS was an option.

However, farmers have questioned how the 28,000 herd owners with less than 10 head are going to reduce stocking rates by 5pc - as required under the scheme.

"Is a farmer with 10 suckler cows supposed to cull one cow in 2020-21 in order to be eligible for €400 this year," a suckler farmer asked.

Quality assurance

The requirement of farmers to be quality assured or in an environmental scheme is also likely to cause difficulties.

It is understood that just 20,000 of the country's 65,000 suckler farms are in the beef quality assurance scheme.

The IFA's Joe Healy urged Minister Creed to take on board the feedback he has received from the farm organisations, make the necessary changes to the scheme, and pay out the money as soon as possible.

"It is imperative that the scheme is designed in such a way that every single cent of €100m committed by the EU Commission and the Irish Government is paid out to farmers," he said.

Indo Farming


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