Farmers in Republic have lost more than €100m since autumn, committee told

Irish Farmers Association president Joe Healy
Irish Farmers Association president Joe Healy

BEEF farmers in the Republic have already incurred losses of €101 million since last autumn because of the effects of Brexit, a government committee has heard.

Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Joe Healy said his organisation has calculated that "angry and frustrated" beef farmers have already incurred the "unacceptable" losses since last October, and are crying out for help.

"Farmers cannot afford to carry this loss and it must be made good by the government and EU Commission," Mr Healy said.

He believes large retailers and meat plants have taken advantage of anxiety around Brexit, which has resulted in a lack of competition for Irish farmers, affecting prices and income for small farms.

"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 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."

It was also proposed that Common Agricultural Policy payments be increased in line with inflation, as income dependency on the payments ran at between 96 per cent and 114 per cent of family farm incomes.

Mr Healy said the government's FoodWise 2025 strategy has failed to address the income crisis for beef farmers and will have to be revisited.

"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 €360m, or 19 per cent, 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 to buy their animal medicines.

"People are crossing the border as there is a significant price difference."

He 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 called on the Dublin 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 over the beef industry, as Fine Gael 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," Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association director of operations Vincent Roddy said.

"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."