Some farmers are “devastated” and have been pushed “over the edge” by “demands for up to €10,000” in Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) repayments, according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA).

Almost €18m is in the process of being clawed back by the Department from 13,000 farmers who didn’t meet the requirements of the scheme.

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to allow farmers to repay BEAM money over seven years rather than all at once to improve their cashflow situation in the short term.

He said: “We are in the middle of an unprecedented cost inflation crisis with fertiliser, fuel and feed all gone off the Richter scale compared to twelve months ago. As farmers, particularly in the low-income sectors, fight to survive, it is unconscionable that a scheme supposedly meant to help farmers is now potentially pushing them over the edge.”

Dire situation

Graham said farmers who have had thousands deducted from their farm payments and those who are currently facing “massive BEAM bills from the Department”, the situation is “particularly dire”.

He claimed that the ICSA never agreed with the 5% stocking rate deduction requirement within the scheme but that despite lobbying, said it has “not proven possible to get it abolished”.

However, he said there is “something that could be done to alleviate the harm”.

The Monaghan farmer called on Minister McConalogue to “immediately call a halt” to the expectation that farmers can “repay this money in one big chunk”.

“We also believe the Minister should reimburse any farmer who has made a full repayment or has had money summarily deducted from another scheme, enabling these farmers to also repay over time should they now need that flexibility.

“Moreover, any interest charged to farmers making repayments over time should be kept to an absolute minimum, given that government borrowing costs are at an all-time low,” he said.

‘Measure of fairness’

The ICSA beef chair said Minister McConalogue needs to introduce a “measure of fairness” into the process of retrieving BEAM funds from farmers who missed the targets set, often through no fault of their own.

“The scheme was badly designed, and the Department of Agriculture must accept some responsibility for that.

“On the one hand, the government is extremely concerned that there won’t be enough crops and silage grown but on the other hand, they are taking away money that could be used right now to buy fertiliser. It really is time for some innovative thinking,” he said.

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