The speedy draw-down of €150m in low-interest loans to farmers highlighted the severe cashflow difficulties that exist in the sector, both the ICMSA and IFA have insisted.
Bank of Ireland and AIB confirmed that their respective allocations of €65m and €60m under the low-interest loan scheme were fully subscribed last week. Ulster Bank's allocation has also been largely exhausted, a spokesperson for the bank said. IFA farm business chairman Martin Stapleton said the huge demand from farmers for the loans - which were provided in association with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SCBI) - illustrated the enormous gap in the market for working capital at a reasonable cost.
This view was echoed by ICMSA president John Comer, who said that the massive demand for the low-interest loans demonstrated vividly the extent of the funding crisis on farms and pointed to what he called the "consistent underestimate" of the financial challenges faced by dairy farmers in the wake of the milk price collapse in the 18 months up to last September.
Both ICMSA and IFA said the absence of credit at competitive interest rates was a serious concern for Irish farmers and for the wider agricultural industry.
The ICMSA leader pointed out that the low interest rates available under the SCBI scheme were freely available to European farmers.
John Comer said the Central Bank should ensure that these low interest rates were offered to Irish borrowers as a matter of course.
Martin Stapleton urged the SBCI to build upon the success of the current scheme and put in place additional funds over the coming months for lower-cost loans for both working capital and longer-term investment.
"IFA will be engaging with SBCI to make the case for this funding, and will use the evidence of the huge demand for the agri-cashflow loan to back this up," he said.
Meanwhile, John Fitzgerald of Bank of Ireland encouraged farmers to continue to lodge their loan requirements with the bank, as these applications would be processed on a 'first come first served' basis should further funding become available under the low-interest scheme at a later date.