Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Beef processors back IFA in suckler subsidy debate

A suckler cow and its calf
A suckler cow and its calf
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Beef processors have backed calls for increased supports for suckler farmers, but stressed that any such payments should not finance a beef-cow cull.

"The industry fully supports calls from the farming organisations for additional investment and supports in the beef sector, and in particular that this would be targeted at suckler producers," Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) told the Farming Independent.

"However, this should be positive investment in sucklers and therefore we would not support proposals related to a cull. Support should always be targeted towards active producers," he maintained.

Differences have emerged between the IFA and ICSA over the last month on possible supports for suckler producers.

While the IFA called for a coupled payment of up to €200/cow for all suckler cows, the ICSA insisted that beef supplies need to be curtailed across Europe for prices to rise. It is proposing a payment of €200/cow for five years on every cow that farmers remove from their herd.

But MII insisted that recoupling payments for the suckler herd and increased efficiency at farm level were what was required.

"We need to continue to invest in and work on the expansion of programmes such as the Beef Data and Genomic Programme, the Knowledge Transfer groups and BETTER Farms that aim to improve productivity and efficiency, and ultimately the bottom line in beef enterprises, particularly for the specialist suckler herd," Healy said.

"There is still so much that can be done inside the farm gate to improve margins, as well as extracting the best returns from the marketplace," the MII director added.

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"Decoupling of supports was a retrograde step, and one that several of the major EU beef-producing member states have since sought to redress," he said.

Reacting to the MII position, ICSA said the meat industry's stance confirmed that the factories were opposed to any policy which controlled supplies.

"ICSA are clear that we need to use policy to help strengthen the position of farmers in the marketplace; and basic economics says scarcity equals better price," said Dermot Kelleher, the association's suckler chairman.

Kelleher dismissed the meat industry's support for coupled payments, claiming that it would simply ensure cheaper beef for the factories.

"The meat industry was always against decoupling, but when we had coupled payments, the beef price was €2.50/kg," he said.

ICSA maintain that any supports for the one-million-cow suckler herd will have to be financed from Ireland's existing CAP payments.

Kelleher claimed the ICSA proposal made sense as a 20pc cut in suckler-cow numbers would cost €40m a year (€200/cow for 200,000 cows), while a €200/cow payment for the entire herd would require €200m a year.

"The reality is that this money will be taken out of farmers' pockets from other schemes, whether it is from the basic payment or from GLAS," he pointed out.

"We can't make policy in dreamland - the pot of money for Ireland from Europe is fixed and, at best, we will hold on to the same levels post-Brexit.

"Therefore, we have to be very careful, when designing schemes, that we also assess how much farmers lose from existing schemes to fund this," Kelleher said.

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