Edmond Phelan, ICSA president, is calling on all general election candidates and political parties to support the ICSA submission for a regulator to be appointed to audit what is going on in the food chain for produce such as beef and lamb, as part of the ICSA pre-election manifesto.
ICSA is also prioritising full support for live exports, Brexit compensation for losses sustained by cattle and sheep farmers, and a fully funded CAP which will allow targeting of funds at less intensive cattle and sheep farmers and the introduction of an agri-environment scheme that is more like REPS and less like GLAS in terms of rewarding farmers.
Mr Phelan pointed out that: “Agriculture is absolutely critical to this country. It is not just the fact that we export €13 billion worth of agri-food produce, it is the reality that agriculture is critical to the well-being of every single rural community in Ireland and is still central to any coherent regional development policy."
He said that candidates need to understand that Brexit has caused a lot of damage to the cattle and sheep sectors in 2019 and that’s why ICSA has repeatedly called for a second phase of the BEAM scheme for cattle sold after 12 May 2019 and a similar scheme for sheep farmers who were impacted by a 30c/kg fall in prices in 2019 due to Brexit.
The ICSA leader is also very adamant that farmers are part of the solution to climate change and in addition to sequestering carbon, there is more that can be done in terms of supporting renewable energy such as biogas. But he warned all candidates that blaming farming as the main cause of climate change is not just unacceptable, it is wrong.
He said that 2019 and early 2020 has also seen a sustained onslaught on livestock farming whereby these sectors are being targeted unfairly and with a complete lack of balance in terms of climate change and health.
"It is not the case that livestock farming is the main cause of climate change on a global level. In fact, the UN FAO calculates the direct emissions (methane from the animal, slurry management) from livestock farming (including cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry) as 5% of total global emissions. The comparable figure for transport is 14%," said Mr Phelan.
He recognised that Ireland has targets to meet and agriculture must do its fair share but already farmers are making a concerted effort to mitigate climate change. Most importantly, grassland sequesters carbon – a carbon cycle in effect - and it makes more sense to produce meat and dairy in Ireland than to outsource it to other regions which are less efficient from a climate change perspective.
The work that farmers undertake to combat climate change should be funded through multiple sources such as the Just Transition fund which is part of the EU Green Deal. Expecting CAP to do everything is basically imposing climate change costs on farmers, said the ICSA president.
Farmers should also be entitled to carbon credits for sequestration through grassland management, hedgerows and tree planting. ICSA believes that this must include work already undertaken by farmers which up to now has been unrecognised, he said.
"Regarding CAP schemes, the ICSA is insistent that we need a much better agri-environment scheme which will actively reward those who participate much more than those who don’t. “Under REPS, many farmers received up to €10,000 and it was paid on a whole farm basis. This is the kind of scheme that is needed if we are serious about biodiversity and climate change,” said Mr Phelan.
ICSA also wants to see the following schemes prioritised under CAP Pillar 2 and stronger national co-funding:
-- New BDGP scheme based on breeding quality beef, export grade weanlings and valuable cows both as calf producers and cull cows
- Continue BEEP scheme with higher payment per head; offer five-year payment to farmers exiting sucklers on a voluntary basis
- New sheep welfare scheme with double current payment
- New organics scheme to include cattle and sheep farmers
ICSA wants to see a marketing strategy for suckler beef and PGI status specifically for sucklers.
"We also want a sheep task force and a wool board to examine improving returns from wool. ICSA is also arguing for a new marketing strategy for organic beef and lamb," said Mr Phelan.