April 10, 2019

Irish beef farmers suffer US$114 million losses due to Brexit, farmers body president claims


Brexit implications has caused Ireland's beef farmers to suffer losses amounting to EUR101 million (US$114 million) since last autumn, a committee consisting of members of the Irish legislature was told.

Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Joe Healy revealed the frustrations of local beef farmers who have to cope with "unacceptable" losses since last October and are now pressing for help. 

"Farmers cannot afford to carry this loss and it must be made good by the Government and EU Commission," Healy said. He blamed major retailers and meat plants which had allegedly tapped into Brexit anxieties, leading to a loss of competition for Irish farmers.

"We had previously closed the gap with the average EU price for beef, but with Brexit, it has fallen back, due to a severe lack of competition, and powerful retailers dictate cattle price at the expense of the farmer. The (Irish) minister (for agriculture, Michael Creed) constantly reminds farmers he can't get involved with beef prices, but the Government has a responsibility to ensure a competitive market," Heady added.

It was also proposed that the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments be increased in line with inflation, as income dependency on the payments ran at between 96% and 114% of family farm incomes.

Healy also felt that Ireland's FoodWise 2025 strategy has failed to address the income crisis for beef farmers.

"While the strategy has delivered substantial growth in the volume and value of beef output, it has not worked for farmers," he told the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. "Looking at data over the last seven years, beef exports have increased by EUR360 million (US$405.4 million), or 19%, but there has been no increase in cattle prices or farm incomes."

The president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association (ICMSA), Pat McCormack, told the committee that farming families are living in fear of inspections.

"We talk about transparency but the truth is the primary producer has no confidence in higher up the chain," he said.

"Costs are another significant issue and it's escalating. Another cost is veterinary medicines, farmers are saying now they will go across to the six counties (Northern Ireland) to buy their animal medicines. People are crossing the border as there is a significant price difference."

McCormack added that Brexit has added to cost worries as farmers are buying livestock at a reduced rate, fearing losses due to the falling price of beef and dairy.

"Brexit has lead to massive loss of confidence, farmers are hedging their bets, there's a fear, they lost their shirts in 2018, they don't have it to lose in 2019," he said.

McCormack called on the government to address the income crisis at farm level, and implement policies to deliver profitability to beef and livestock farmers.

The government has been caught in a row with some rural TDs (Teachtaí Dála, a member of the lower house of the Irish Parliament) over the beef industry, as Fine Gael, the governing party of Ireland, attempts to centre policies around action on climate change.

The move towards eating less meat and dairy has previously been labelled by independent TD Danny Healy-Rae as an "attack on rural Ireland".

"The possibility of replacing cows with trees is tempting, but from previous experience, we know quick fixes rarely work," said Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association's director Of operations Vincent Roddy.

"In the INHFA, we believe we can have our cows and carbon sequestration, this can be achieved with better supports for agri-forestry to help offset any increased emissions."

- PA Ready News UK