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NEWS: Mercosur

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NEWS: Mercosur

 The goalposts weren’t ‘moved’, they’ve been burned

One of the complaints that you’ll hear most commonly cited by farmers is that ‘the goalposts have been moved’. This refers to the practice of changing regulations, requirements, targets or stipulations of a policy or ambition after those have been set and after the people who had to meet the original regulations and requirements – usually farmers – have already started to meet those original requirements, investing time and money in so doing.

The list of times and occasions when farmers have had to look on in disbelief while regulators or civil servants rambled onto the pitch – in mid match – and casually dug up the goalposts moved them forwards or backwards and replanted them, without so much as a nod – much less agreement – is too numerous to cite here. Everybody reading this will be able to quote several occasions when farmers or farm organisations were solemnly handed a list of requirements all to be completed with a fixed timeframe, only to be told – a few months later – that ‘the matter has been reviewed’ and now a whole different set of requirements were to be applied in a much sorter timeframe. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been that soldier (farmer).

I think that’s what so alarming about the Mercosur issue; it’s not the fact that it was agreed at all, atrocious as that is. It’s the fact that it was announced less than a fortnight after the Irish Government had published a National Climate Action Plan that seemed to signal that Ireland, having been perceived to be dragging its feet on measures to combat climate change, was now going to really accelerate its sustainability measures and make those compulsory.

Farmers and the wider public were told in the Climate Action Plan that it was no longer a question of whether or not we wanted to be active in counter-emissions measures – that decision was no longer going to be ours to accept or reject.

Ireland was going to make it a national imperative that we hit a whole new set of figures and nobody – and hard looks were directed at us farmers in case we didn’t realise who they meant – was going to be allowed drag their feet or attempt to derail this new national objective.

It will not be new to anyone that ICMSA has very firm views on the question – the misrepresentation – of the role of farming in Irish carbon emissions. Our view starts from two indisputable positions on the basis that where you start from the truth and are careful not to wander too far, then you can reasonably be sure that you’re on the right track. And so ICMSA’s position on carbon emissions has always been that we are – by any comparison – amongst the most carbon efficient producers of dairy and beef on the planet.

That means that our production should, so far as practicable, be continued, while less environmentally efficient producers of dairy and beef are curtailed. That system of production-where-best-suited will work against us on other foods and we’ll have to accept that. The other indisputable fact is that farmers alone cannot and must not be asked to bear hugely disproportionate costs for our society’s efforts at reducing emissions. Everyone is involved in those emissions: whether it’s producing the beef, selling the beef or consuming the beef, and as far as we’re concerned that means everyone will have to pay a share.

Both of these ICMSA starting points are based on our acceptance of the reality of climate change. We accept the science; we accept the reality that climate change is going to present existential problems for societies unless action is taken right now. And the very first action that the scientists tell us absolutely must be taken is to end and reverse the catastrophic deforestation that’s occurring in South America particularly.

We know that the South American forests are being cleared for beef production. And we know that the decision to increase the amount of South American beef that can be exported to the EU – however small that may be – will accelerate that destruction as the ranchers involved now conclude that the door has been opened and the amounts they can export will only be going up.

As will the carbon emissions, as will global temperatures, as will the increasing global panic – and as will the bitter disillusionment of the youth as they see the hopeless contradictions involved in the EU-Mercosur deal.

The Mercosur agreement is not just another kick in the teeth for our beef sector, already facing the loss of its biggest market and one we’ve been selling into for centuries. It’s a heavy blow to the reputation of the Irish Government and the EU and wipes out their credibility on environmental issues. That could turn out to be the heaviest blow of them all.

Ends 30 July 2019.

Pat McCormack
President, ICMSA

Farming

IFA Raises Payment Concerns with Dept at Charter of Rights Meeting

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Speaking at a Charter of Rights meeting with the Department of Agriculture this week, the IFA Deputy President Brian Rushe said it’s absolutely essential that the maximum number of applicants in tranche 19 of TAMS are approved as soon as possible to provide certainty to farmers who are planning to carry out work.

IFA Rural Development Chairman Michael Biggins welcomed confirmation that payment of the ANC balancing payment will commence next week.

He stressed the importance of paying the remaining farmers as soon as they meet their stocking density requirements, which the Dept confirmed happens on a weekly basis.  Farmers will be paid as soon as they meet the required stocking density, which in some cases will run to the end of the year.

Michael Biggins also called on the Dept to pay the ANC to farmers who omitted in error to tick the ANC box on their BPS application this year.  “A system where a farmer has to ‘opt out’ rather the ‘opt in’ would ensure there are fewer errors when submitting applications,” he said.

IFA Deputy President Brian Rushe welcomed the payment of the BPS balancing payment which commenced this week.  “The Dept also confirmed the issue around transfer of entitlement, which held up payments of around 1,000 farmers, has been resolved for most at this stage and the remaining ones will be resolved in the next week,” he said.

IFA National Livestock Chairman Brendan Golden has welcomed DAFM facilitation of farmers who made ‘Draft applications’ to BEEP-S scheme and who had operated under the impression they were participating in the scheme by carrying out measures on their farms. IFA had raised this issue directly with the Department of Agriculture and the acceptance of these farmers into the scheme is the right decision.

Regarding the Beef Finishers Payment, Brendan Golden again called for cattle exported for slaughter in the reference period to be paid on from the surplus in the Beef Finishers Payment fund.

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Farming

IFA Launches Guide to Personal Insolvency Arrangements

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IFA National Farm Business Chair Rose Mary McDonagh and Martin Stapleton, Chairman of the IFA Debt Support Service, have launched a Guide to Personal Insolvency Arrangements (PIA).

IFA Debt Support Service was established following the last recession to provide specific support to farmers in arrears.

The confidential service is comprised of an experienced team of IFA volunteers working with professional support to provide assistance to IFA members in financial difficulty.

Martin Stapleton said IFA has worked with over 500 farmers over the last few years. While the numbers in difficulty are reducing, recent weeks have seen an increase in activity from vulture funds since the COVID-19 Payment Breaks came to an end.

“This guide is available on IFA’s website and will serve as a useful resource for farmers in arrears seeking to protect their family home and farm land,” he said.

A Personal Insolvency Arrangement (PIA) is a debt resolution mechanism outlined in the Personal Insolvency Act, which acts as an insolvency solution for people with unsecured and secured debt.

Rose Mary McDonagh added that a PIA can provide a debtor with protection from their creditors and on completion, a debtor will return to solvency.

At present, the Oireachtas is considering one of two Bills which will reform the area of personal insolvency and amend the current eligibility requirements for a PIA. Rose Mary McDonagh said the definition of relevant debt should be expanded to include debt prior to 2015, and debt secured in or over a debtor’s income reliant/core asset.

The IFA Debt Support Service can be contacted, in confidence, at 1890 924 853.

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Farming

EU Must Complete an Impact Assessment of Green Strategies

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Speaking after a meeting of European Farm Leaders (COPA) with EU Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans yesterday, IFA President Tim Cullinan said that the EU must complete a full impact assessment of the EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.

“I told the Commissioner a full impact assessment is needed to determine how much implementing these strategies will cost,” he said.

“Frans Timmermans has threatened to withdraw the Commission’s own CAP proposal if it doesn’t take more account of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. Yet he has no idea how much these strategies will cost or who will pay for them,” he said.

“People are quoting all these targets without any consideration for their impact on output or on production costs of farmers. Farmers cannot be left to carry the can on this,” he said.

“We also need Teagasc to do an assessment of the impact in Ireland. We are currently deep in discussions on the Agrifood 2030 strategy, but again we have a data vacuum,” he said.

“It’s incredible that the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture has examined the impact of ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy on farm incomes, output and trade and neither the EU nor Ireland has,” he said.

“The US report predicts that as a result of the strategy, farm incomes would be reduced by 16%. This is as a consequence of the expected loss of production by 12% across the EU which would not be offset by the 17% increase in market prices.”

“If these measures were implemented, the report predicts a loss in output at an EU level which would cause exports to fall by 20% and imports would increase by 2%. The knock-on effect of these changes in trade is predicted to increase the cost of food by €132 per person in the EU.”

“If these figures are correct, they would be devastating for European farmers. Yet the EU Commission doesn’t know, or won’t tell us, what their assessment of the impact will be,” he said.

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