Farmers push for ‘immediate opening’ of €25 million agri-loan scheme

Pressure is mounting on Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to open a much-anticipated low-cost agri-loan scheme that was announced in Budget 2018.

The €25 million low-cost loan scheme – leveraged to help bolster the agri-food sector in response to Brexit – is expected to be delivered before the end of the year.

However, it is understood that the highly-coveted scheme has not yet been quantified.

Pat McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), has added his voice to calls for the scheme to be opened “as quickly as possible” given what he described as the “massive pressures” on farmers at present.

On foot of a very late spring, severe summer drought and grave concerns over fodder supplies this winter, the farm leader stated that a significant number of farmers are currently facing “unprecedented financial stress”.

“The late spring and then the summer drought has added thousands of euro to bills – particularly for feed and fertiliser.

Bills have mounted up over the course of 2018 and incomes will be slashed over the same period. Cash flow is now a massive issue for farmers and one that will only intensify as the year progresses.

“These low-cost loans have to materialise quickly and must be made available at interest rates similar to the last scheme,” he stated.

McCormack emphasised that focus must be based on rolling them out to those farmers who need them most urgently – adding that this could be “a very significant number”.

Last March, the Government continued its Brexit response by opening a separate €300 million Brexit loan scheme – eligible to all SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) with up to 499 employees and offering loans up to €1.5 million at a rate of 4% or less.

The Brexit loan scheme for SME’s was opened in March and farmers – given the highly publicised pressures on them – are at a loss to understand why there is such a delay in their scheme.

“We have to see this opened and operating immediately,” McCormack said.

‘Complex’

When recently quizzed on progress to the introduction of the €25 million low-cost agri-loan scheme in Leinster House, Minister Creed replied that there are a lot of “moving parts” involved in establishing the scheme.

It is not solely an issue of the department developing the product. A number of critical partners are involved, including parties with which we are negotiating at EU level.

“Those negotiations are complex and protracted and getting all parties to move on the design of the scheme simultaneously is challenging. In due course, this will also involve the participation of financial institutions in Ireland to deliver the product.

“I have always said it would be the second half of 2018 and I am still working to that deadline,” the minister said.