Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), released today, Thursday, March 5, on agricultural incomes “highlight the ongoing pressures on farmers attempting to earn a reasonable level of income”, according to one of the country’s leading farm organisations.

Pat McCormack, the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), said that farmers continue to be “exposed to market forces completely outside of their control”.

The data show that Irish farmers produced 3.3% more in volume terms compared to 2018 – but received 0.7% less in value terms.

The CSO figures underline 2019 as a hugely difficult year for the beef sector, with the value of output down by €104 million compared to 2018, despite a 2% increase in volume and down a massive €206 million on the 2017 level.

“The losses in 2019 were to a large extent Brexit related, and that makes the fact that a portion of the BEAM [Beef Exceptional Aid Measure] funding remains unspent even more regrettable,” McCormack argued.

“The BEAM terms and conditions were going to leave significant numbers of dairy farmers outside the scheme – and that’s exactly what has come to pass as the unspent monies so graphically illustrate,” the ICMSA president added.

Sustainable prices

McCormack went on to stress that the “sustainability agenda” must also be accompanied by sustainable prices for producers.

Policy makers will have to put in place mechanisms to protect farmers from market shocks and the EU market should only allow product that meets its own sustainability standard.

“While operating surplus did improve in 2019, it needs to be recognised that even after this improvement, the operating surplus is actually €380 million behind the 2017 figure, so even over the short-term, we’re dealing with a very significant reduction for farmers,” McCormack concluded.