Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Farm groups highlight risk from beef targets

New goals blasted as a threat to cattle prices and the SFP

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

FARM organisations have warned that new growth targets for the beef sector have the potential to tumble cattle prices and dilute single farm payments (SFP).

The Beef 2020 activation group report, headed up by former AIB man Michael Dowling, announced last week that targets for the sector could be doubled from 20pc to 40pc growth by the end of the decade.

However, the ICSA general secretary, Eddie Punch, said that farmers should pause to reflect on what has driven high prices this year.

"There are three factors: scarcity, scarcity and scarcity," he said.

He warned the weekly kill would have to increase by 8,000hd to an average 38,000hd to meet the new growth targets. Mr Punch said it was "beyond comprehension" that Ireland would undermine prices by flooding their market with extra beef.

Mr Punch also took aim at the group's recommendation that a substantial coupled payment would be needed for suckler farmers to retain suckler cow numbers.

He said he was "absolutely convinced" that the beef prices seen in recent months could not have happened if the old-style coupled supports were still in place.

"I cannot believe that we are falling back into the same trap of thinking that we can go back to coupled payments to artificially boost supply," Mr Punch said.

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"Talks of bringing back a big suckler cow payment is music to the ears of factories. However, farmers need to beware of robbing Peter to pay Peter policies," he warned.

"There are no extra funds available either at national or EU level and any extra coupled payments will be simply a matter of deducting from your current single payment and giving it back to you with strings attached," Mr Punch maintained. The ICMSA echoed the ICSA's concerns about re-coupling payments, stating that it was "categorically opposed" to recoupling payments for the suckler herd.

"The post-CAP reform budget has not even been outlined or specified and yet we have individuals laying claim to priority payments for a certain section of farmers," ICMSA president Jackie Cahill said.

"In the last round, dairy farmers received lower SFPs than others and in the context of an ending of the historical basis for payments, dairy farmers could see their SFPs reduced further.

"ICMSA will demand fair play for all and will not stand aside where the SFP of any full-time farmer is reduced and diverted to the restoration of coupled payments," Mr Cahill stated.

"There is a clear obligation on any farm spokesperson who claims special payment status for any one group of farmers to explain and identify what group of farmers will be made pay for that special payment status," he added.

Meanwhile, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) welcomed the beef activation group report. Cormac Healy of MII said the 40pc growth target took into account further growth in the value of exports up to 2020, but also growth in the volume of beef output.

He said support for the national suckler cow herd was essential, through the continuation and improvement of the suckler cow welfare scheme and through coupled support in CAP post-2013.

Mr Healy accepted that beef output would only grow if producers were making a margin. However, he stressed that while cattle prices were critical to the profitability of beef farms, the beef activation group clearly identified the need to improve the productive performance on beef farms through breeding, improved calving percentages and increasing the kilos of beef output per hectare.

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