The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has said that lessons will have to be learned from the “spectacular mess” of the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) scheme.

11,075 out of 33,000 farmers taking part in the scheme will face a clawback of their payments as they failed to reduce their organic nitrogen (N) output by 5% or more over the course of either reduction period.

ICSA Beef Committee chair Edmund Graham said that the final figures show “what a spectacular mess was made of devising a scheme that was meant to help farmers in deep difficulty”.

“It is a stunning indictment of the department [of agriculture] that a scheme that was meant to deliver €100 million to farmers has ended up delivering about €60 million. Lessons must be learned from this,” he commented.

ICSA warning

Graham explained that the ICSA and others had warned Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue that the scheme was “unworkable” from the start due to the conditionality of EU regulations.

“This fad for conditionality is creeping in more and more and it must be tackled head on. Either there is a case to help farmers or there isn’t.

“In the case of BEAM, farmers had suffered a serious price collapse due to Brexit disruption which was not their fault. The EU and the Department of Public Expenditure both accepted that there was a case to help farmers in trouble and accordingly allocated €100 million,” the ICSA chair noted.

“The initial application process showed that farmers foresaw difficulties with the scheme as their applications were for about €78 million. However, the final results show that about 11,000 of the 33,00 applicants will be subjected to clawbacks, and some 95% of those will lose the full payment.

“This is shocking stuff. ICSA has been contacted by members who are now in deep difficulty. In some cases, the immediate clawback of €10,000 is causing serious cashflow stresses,” Graham stated.

“It is very wrong that to add insult to injury, these farmers are being threatened with punitive interest charges. ICSA is insisting that farmers should not be charged interest especially given that Irish government bonds are at close to zero rates,” he continued.

Graham said that the department must engage in a meaningful way with farm representatives at an early stage when designing future schemes.

“Unfortunately, the trend in recent years has been to present schemes as a done deal far too late in the process.

“In addition, the department has allowed Brussels to impose its views, even though it is evident that the EU has increasingly taken an idealistic view in relation to policy which is divorced from reality on the ground.

“This must be challenged, and it is particularly relevant to the CAP plan. We need our minister to do much more to engage with farm representatives and to stand up to EU bureaucrats,” the ICSA beef chair concluded.