There have been calls for Farm Assist payments to be increased in line with the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

Shane O’Loughlin, the farm business chairperson of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), said that all sections of society should be “treated equally”.

“There are now many farm families who are severely stretched due to the downturn, particularly livestock prices, and simply cannot make ends meet,” O’Loughlin said.

There’s a system-glitch emerging where farmers are unable to receive the self-employed pandemic payment because they’re earning some income – albeit very severely reduced.

“That means they have to turn to Farm Assist as quickly as possible, but then we see that Farm Assist is noticeably lower than the Covid-19 unemployment benefit…this should be remedied quickly and fairly,” O’Loughlin argued.

He also stressed that the assessment for eligibility should be done on a ‘current year’ basis, and that the assessment process will have to be quicker then at present, given an expected increase in applications in the coming weeks as a result of reduced farm output prices.

“As Farm Assist is a means-tested payment for low-income farmers, there will be many farmers who believe that they are currently not entitled to it,” O’Loughlin noted.

But the means test takes account of virtually every form of income in a specific way that means that many farmers are now likely to be eligible – particularly given the collapse in beef prices.

The ICMSA farm business chairperson said it was important for farmers who were under financial pressure to “reach out quickly” to banks, the Government and other agencies to get the help that is available.

O’Loughlin concluded by saying: “A real sign of that official support would be increasing the payment available under Farm Assist to the levels of the Covid-19 payment.”