Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 24 May 2018

Declan O'Brien: Factories and IFA couple up

Paul Finnerty of ABP told the ASA conference that €100million invested in any initiative to support the suckler herd would return four or five times that amount to the national exchequer
Paul Finnerty of ABP told the ASA conference that €100million invested in any initiative to support the suckler herd would return four or five times that amount to the national exchequer
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

There was a mix of good and worrying news from the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference in Waterford last week.

The good news came in the form of the strong and reasoned support that Minister Simon Coveney offered for the suckler sector.

The worry stemmed from his comments regarding exchequer support for Pillar II and the impact this will have on a raft of rural development and farm schemes.

However, let's start with the positive. Minister Coveney's backing for some form of support measure for the suckler sector that is not simply based on numbers has to be welcome.

The suggestion by the minister that such a move is likely to be financed by funds transferred from Pillar II to Pillar I will also come as a relief to non-suckler farmers who have been less than enthused with the prospect of having their single farm payment used to finance the beef sector.

Explaining his position, Minister Coveney told the ASA conference that coupled payments did not work in all situations and that the Department of Agriculture could not justify supporting farmers for producing stock regardless of the quality.

The clamour for coupled payments has seen the IFA and the factories on the same side of the fence for the first time in quite a while.

Their alliance on this issue will undoubtedly be strengthened by the recent Teagasc findings on the effect of the new CAP which revealed that 40pc of the output from the cattle sector was at risk, with suckler farmers facing a significant income fall.

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However, Teagasc's CAP appraisal also suggested that significant levels of support for the suckler sector may still not be enough to keep it viable and maintain cattle numbers on the ground.

Falling beef cow numbers will not please the factories. Lobbying for the introduction of coupled payments, Paul Finnerty of ABP told the ASA conference that €100million invested in any initiative to support the suckler herd would return four or five times that amount to the national exchequer.

I don't doubt his figures but if the national exchequer is getting four or five times the €100m invested, then how much of it are the beef barons pocketing?

And would the men and women rearing and calving the suckler cows and calves see any real difference in their incomes at the end of the day?

In other words, would the coupled payments be used to compensate suckler farmers for lower weanling prices from which the beef plants would ultimately benefit?

On Pillar II funding, Minister Coveney's comments would appear to suggest the Government will not match the €313m received from Brussels euro for euro.

The ICMSA has estimated that such a move could cost Pillar II schemes up to €80m annually. This needs to be clarified.

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