‘Farmers already pay more than fair share’: Any move to rise TB costs to be opposed

Any suggestion that farmers could be expected to fund the increasing cost of administering the TB Eradication Programme will be opposed, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has said.

Commenting on the possibility that a shortfall in funding for the eradication programme will have to be made up through exchequer funding and farmer contributions, ICSA animal health chairman Hugh Farrell said:

“Through herd testing and disease levies farmers contribute over €35 million annually to the programme.

With less than less than half this figure channelled back to farmers through compensation measures in any given year, it is clear farmers already pay more than their fair share.

Farrell was referencing Department of Agriculture commentary on the issue that suggested an increase in farmer contributions to the programme could be on the cards.

“The suggestion is even more galling given that department staff costs and admin run at approximately €27.5m annually while there is no acknowledgement or recognition of the time and labour that farmers contribute.

“If this was taken into consideration the ICSA estimates that farmer contribution would exceed €50 million annually.

“The ICSA has looked for a further breakdown of those staff and admin costs at the department, and Minister McConalogue must deliver greater transparency around this,” Farrell stressed.

The chairman said it was inevitable that successive agri-food strategies that were based on increasing the size of the overall herd would pose some challenges to the TB Eradication Programme.

While the farmer contribution is increasing through testing more animals and through more levies, it is only fair and logical that the department contribution should increase in line with the increase in agri-food exports.

Continuing, Farrell highlighted that the sector’s target was to get to €19 billion agri-food exports and, so far, it has surpassed €13 billion, representing over 30% growth in output.

“To a significant extent, this has occurred due to the increase in dairy cow numbers to 1.5 million by 2019 from one million before quota abolition, with a consequential impact on beef numbers.

“But you cannot plan for a 30% expansion in agri-food exports and then assume that there will be no impact on costs on department programmes such as TB,” he said.

However, while the expansion of the dairy herd is one of the reasons given by the department to explain the recent increase in TB incidences, consideration must also be given to the significant rise in economic activity as a result of that expansion.

“All of these extra receipts to the exchequer would far exceed the increase in funding required to fund an expanding TB Eradication Programme,” the chairman contended.

Farrell said: “ICSA does not accept this seemingly never-ending narrative from the Department of Agriculture that farmers are to blame for any increase in TB levels, and we will resist all attempts to foist any additional costs onto farmers.

“Rather than imposing more hardship on farmers, the ICSA wants to see the department focus its efforts of developing a TB test that is 100% accurate.

“Farmers are not prepared to stump up more money for a hit-and-miss programme that causes extreme financial hardship for those caught up in it,” the chairman concluded.