‘Extraordinary agriculture programme from Europe is needed’

Calls have been made for the European Central Bank (ECB) to make extra funding available in addition to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for an ‘extraordinary agriculture programme’.

According to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), the “unprecedented” Covid-19 crisis cannot be tackled within “the already stretched resources of the CAP”.

Edmond Phelan, the association’s president, said that there has been a “groundswell of support” at an EU level for comprehensive supports for food and agriculture, arguing: “This must be reflected in the actions at Government level.

Limiting ourselves to the CAP means robbing Peter to pay Paul and that is a totally unworthy response to this devastating crisis, particularly as society, now more than ever, needs farmers to stay strong and to stay viable.

The ICSA is calling for ECB funding to be made available to the banking sector to allow “re-payment holidays” on bank loans, as well as to provide low-cost loan credit for farmers.

“The closure of marts, coupled with serious volatility in the beef and lamb markets, will play havoc with the cash flow on many farms at a time when money will be needed for fertiliser, meal, diesel and, shortly, for first cut silage,” said Phelan.

He added: “Therefore, the Government should insist that the pillar banks offer a one-year re-payment holiday on farm and business loans. These re-payments should be added, without penalty, to the end of the loan and in the meantime bank liquidity should be supported with equivalent money from the ECB, at zero interest.”

The ‘extraordinary agriculture programme’ should be aimed at supporting Aid to Private Storage or intervention for beef and lamb, the ICSA argues. The association envisages a programme of limited quantities where specific markets have reduced demand (for example, the closure of fast-food outlets).

“We should also examine the case for a price collapse support fund, along the lines of BEAM [Beef Exceptional Aid Measure], but covering the sheep sector as well as the cattle sector,” Phelan argued.

He went on to say that such a programme should also be used for promoting EU-produced meat products to consumers; and should be used to provide flexibility for work permits, given the need for replacement labour – particularly if a farmer is self-isolating.

Flexibility

The ICSA is also urging flexibility around farm inspections and conditionally around schemes and TB testing.

“This must be led by the EU so that maximum use of remote sensing and a reduction in the percentage requirements for inspections are put in place. We cannot have a scenario where unnecessary farm inspections are taking place for fear of EU sanctions or delays in payments,” Phelan insisted.

In relation to TB testing, ICSA supports farmers being able to delay the herd test where the farmer or vet has a reason to self-isolate, and that this should be possible without sanctions on the farmer.

The ICSA is also insisting that marts be allowed to facilitate livestock sales through weighing and guaranteed payment services.

“The closure of the mart is a serious blow to many farmers, and we want to ensure that marts are kept in business for the duration of the ban and to help farmers who are worried about secure payment. In addition, marts can make sure that AIM [Animal Identification and Movement] database requirements are fully complied with,” said the ICSA president.

Finally, Phelan said of live exports: “We note that over 35 NGOs, including Irish groups, are lobbying the EU for a ban on live exports. ICSA completely rejects this and is calling on all MEPs to stand with the farming community at this difficult time.”

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