'Coupled payments an MII cop-out'

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Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The ICSA has slated calls for a coupled payment on suckler cows and called instead for the factories to pay more for beef and for the return of a 'REPS-type' scheme for beef producers.

Both the IFA and Meat Industry Ireland (MII) have strongly supported the introduction of a coupled payment on the suckler herd to protect farmer incomes and stop the slow decline in beef cow numbers.

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But, describing the call for coupled as a "cop-out" by the beef industry, the ICSA accused MII of wanting farmers to produce more beef stock at low prices so that processors could maximise their profits.

"The meat industry wants a coupled payment so that farmers continue to produce more and more cattle at a price less than the cost of production. That has always been the policy of the meat industry," said ICSA suckler chair John Halley.

And in a veiled reference to the IFA's efforts to secure a €200/hd coupled suckler payment, Mr Halley said farm organisations that supported the meat industry proposals should "look at basic economic principles".

"When we had coupled payments, beef price was €2.50/kg," he said. "When you hear the meat industry looking for a coupled payment, you should know it's because they are seeing dollar signs."

Mr Halley questioned how a €200/hd coupled payment would be funded and what schemes would have to be sacrificed if it were introduced.

"There is no country in Europe that gives a €200 coupled payment per suckler cow. But if we do close down other schemes to fund a new scheme, we need to be very precise about devising a scheme that puts real money into the pockets of the farmer," he cautioned.

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He said one decent REPS-type scheme was what was required to put money back in suckler farmers' pockets.

"The biggest loss to cattle and sheep farmers was the old REPS scheme where farmers typically got up to €10,000 for providing a tidy, biodiverse landscape which gave multiple benefits to rural economies," he maintained.

Meanwhile, Cormac Healy of MII has attributed the recent lift in demand for beef cattle on the improvement in market sentiment since the Brexit crisis of March and April, and on stronger sales of steak cuts on the back of the fine weather.

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