The “rocketing” farm input costs at the moment are “now a bigger threat than Brexit” for the cattle and sheep sector, according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).
Edmund Graham, the association’s beef chairperson, attended a meeting of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee yesterday (Thursday, April 21).
He said afterwards that he is “not satisfied that the appalling vista currently facing drystock farmers is being taken seriously by either Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue or the government as a whole”.
“To date, nothing has been done to help beef suckler and sheep farmers. Absolutely no real financial assistance has been forthcoming despite repeated assurance that such assistance would be made available to offset spiraling input costs.
“This crisis is bigger than Brexit in terms of the hit to farm incomes on cattle, sheep and suckler farms,” Graham claimed.
He added: “We need real measures – that will have real impact – if we are to prevent thousands of drystock farmers going out of business.”
According to Graham, cattle and sheep farms “can take zero comfort” from the committee as it “hasn’t alleviated any difficulties around the affordability of feed, fuel or fertiliser”.
“While the dairy sector is being buoyed by significant prices rises and any amount of assistance from the dairy processors, the same cannot be said for the drystock sector.
He called on the minister and the government to “face up to the fact” that beef and sheep farmers are more vulnerable than dairy farmers.
“Indications are that it will cost upwards of €600/head to feed bulls in a shed for 100 days through next winter. How are farmers supposed to afford that, and what are the meat factories prepared to do. [We] are adamant that €7/kg will be needed next spring to cover such inflated production costs and to allow a minor profit,” Graham argued.
“Factories cannot be allowed to stay silent and offer neither guidance, nor assistance, nor forward price guarantees to their suppliers,” he added.
He noted that farm incomes through increases in beef prices are not enough to cover the increasing cost of fertiliser, saying that a beef bullock this time last year would have fetched €1,650, enough to buy 6t of fertiliser at €275/t, but now, even though that same animal would get €2,000, this would only buy 1.8t of fertiliser at €1,100/t.
ICSA sheep chairperson Sean McNamara gave a similar example for the sheep sector, saying that this time last year, two lambs at €160/head would have bought 1.16t of fertiliser, but today it would take the same price on seven lambs to buy that amount.
“That is just a snapshot of the reality we are facing, and it’s the reality that Minister McConalogue needs to face up to,” the ICSA said.