Cowen to finalise €50 million beef support package in the ‘next 7 to 10 days’

Earlier tonight, the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Barry Cowen, joined the [email protected] panel discussion, which was facilitated by professor of agri-food economics at University College Cork (UCC), Thia Hennessy.

The live panel discussion, brought to you by Teagasc in association with AgriLand, focused on the main challenges facing the Irish beef sector.

Such challenges include: climate change; biodiversity; water quality; animal welfare; and the biggest challenge of all – low incomes faced by beef farmers.

The new minister acknowledged these challenges and outlined the importance of the sector both to rural Ireland and the wider economy.

“The industry has been challenged and it’s imperative that everybody works together in order to ensure that it can rise to new challenges, and we all have a role to play in that too,” he said as he joined the discussion via video link.

“We acknowledge the role the beef sector has in rural Ireland. It is a huge economic driver in rural Ireland and it’s in the heart of every community; it’s in the heart of every parish,” he said.

“It is in our interest to sustain it, enhance it, and to ensure that it continues to thrive and continues to evolve.

“It’s important to ensure that production systems meet with the consumer sentiment and meet with the environmental sustainability that’s expected within the sector nowadays.”

Minister Cowen commended improvements that have been made in the sector in recent years in the areas of knowledge transfer, innovation and genomics – and how these advancements have improved environmental and economic efficiency.

He also touched on the progress achieved in terms of market development for Irish produce.

“We’re shipping produce further than ever; we’re not only maintaining our own markets here in the EU l, but looking at new markets outside of EU.

“In the last five years, we have access to Japan, USA and China. In relation to China, it’s been a long time getting there, but we were the first western European member state to gain a access to that market in 2018,” he said.

Minister Cowen addressed the pending challenges facing Irish primary producers in terms of low margins, the dependency on exports – particularly to the UK, changing consumer trends and Brexit. He also highlighted the challenges brought on the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’re now faced with changing and challenging expectations from consumers – in the whole area of sustainability, alternative protein sources and the expectations they have in relation to environmental ambition and animal welfare.

“We also have the present challenges in relation to the Covid crisis and the market disturbance that that has generated,” he added.

On the topic of Brexit, he said: “The whole fear, worry and concern of Brexit is back on the table. There is a slow pace to the development of a trade deal between the EU and the UK and that’s worrying.

To that end – since I’ve come in – we have been very anxious and have met with commissioner Hogan and the agricultural commissioner.

“We are pressing upon them the key demands that we have have such as a trade deal being successful. We can’t afford a situation of a quota and tariff systems; that could be to the detriment to the agricultural sector,” he highlighted.

In terms of policy changes, Minister Cowen committed to maintaining basic income supports for beef farmers and that the conditions surrounding the next CAP are not “restrictive or overbearing”.

“In the next week or 10 days, I hope to finalise the €50 million scheme to help those affected by Covid-19 earlier this year.

“That will be a sharp, simple, easy scheme directed at finishers with no conditionality and it’s important that that is in place in the next week, with applications being made and payment in October,” he concluded.