The IFA livestock committee chair has traditionally been one of the most powerful positions within the organisation, with many successful presidential campaigns launched with the backing of the IFA livestock committee.
It’s a tough job and the last 18 months have been very difficult, but as current livestock chair Brendan Golden says: “We just have to do the best we can.
“There are days that the phone never stops and you have to juggle that with Zoom meetings and everything else that’s going on.”
As we talk in his farmyard just outside Killala in north Co Mayo, his phone rings five times – all IFA business. It’s been a busy few days in the agri-policy world, with a CAP deal as good as signed and sealed last Friday.
I see it myself here at home. It’s getting harder and harder to make a living
The country remains divided on what the outcome will be for farmers.
Golden isn’t happy with the outcome: “It’s a bad deal for productive beef farmers and it could be the death knell for full-time beef farming as we know it.
“I see it myself here at home. It’s getting harder and harder to make a living, so much so that I have three lads at home and when they see the struggles that go on, they’re not that interested in coming into the business and I couldn’t blame them.”
Issues around convergence have divided a lot of farmers over the last few weeks.
Golden has his own views on it but thinks it won’t be good for the drystock sector.
“We wanted to hold the line at 75% but we failed in getting that across the line. It’s an almost doubling of the current rate and it’s going to hit farmers very hard.
The man or woman farming 200 acres extensively will win but it’s at the expense of other farmers, both small and big
“There is a myth out there that the small farmer will win and the big farmer will lose but I know lots of farmers with 20ha on good-value entitlements of €300/ha to €350/ha and they are going to lose out with this deal.
“The man or woman farming 200 acres extensively will win but it’s at the expense of other farmers, both small and big.
“These productive farms have already taken a huge hit in the last reforms and now they are being asked to take it again.”
“We’re looking at a 25% linear cut of the Pillar I payment for this. The fund must have the flexibility for farmers to get back at a minimum what they put in. A flat-rate payment will not deliver this and will be another form of convergence for productive farmers.
“If you take a farmer on 40ha with €300/ha entitlements, €3,000 will come off their BPS. If the flat rate is €60/ha, that’s a maximum of €2,400 they can get back and that’s before any compliance costs. There may be some scope to reduce our national eco-scheme requirement based on the high level of environmental measures in Pillar II schemes. This must be fully explored”
Front-loading again is seen as a win for smaller farmers. It’s a small win for low entitlement holders.
Talking to farmers up and down the country, they are very angry about this one
Golden says: “This isn’t good for suckler farmers. If you take a farmer on €200/ha on 20ha, it’s a total payment of €4,000. Ten per cent of that is €400. The front-loading could be €40/ha on the first 30ha, so that means that farmer is up €1,200 or €800 net.
“That’s hardly going to be a game changer for that farmer. Talking to farmers up and down the country, they are very angry about this one.
“It will further erode the viability of the more productive farmers and also reduce the payments to low-value entitlement farmers on larger areas.”
Coupled payments have come up for discussion in the last two weeks, with IFA members Derek Deane and Flor McCarthy being very vocal in their quest for the IFA to look at low-income sectors such as suckling and see how a coupled ewe and suckler payment could be introduced for drystock farmers.
“We can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. There was no appetite for a coupled payment from my livestock committee and we held a round of national meetings online and it didn’t come up there either.
“How do you say to a tillage farmer or beef finisher, ‘we want to take 10% of your payment to make a fund for suckler cows’? There’d be war. There’s already serious anger out there about the other cuts so how could we propose more?”
The IFA’s position remains for a targeted payment of €300/suckler cow and €30/ewe in Pillar II with additional Government funding to provide this.
With a beef finisher looking at a potential 50% cut in support payments, I asked Golden how he will explain that to farmers on the ground and if the IFA has done enough to avoid the current situation.
“Look, it’s been a bad week but the architecture for this current set of reforms was put in place as far back as 2018 and we couldn’t change that.
“We’ve seen Frans Timmermans [vice-president of the European Commission] push through his green agenda into the CAP reform and that has left us in a disastrous position. I don’t have any comfort for those farmers at the moment. I know how difficult the future is going to be.
“I think a lot of farmers haven’t grasped how bad it’s going to be. The EU has really let us down and they seemed to have closed the door on commercial farming. Covid-19 has made things very difficult for us in the IFA. I haven’t been in Brussels once since I took up this position and I’ve only been in Dublin on a handful of occasions but the online meetings have ensured the work continues to be done and will continue at pace over the summer months.”
“We need to move our focus to the Pillar II financing now and make sure that the Government increases the level of co-funding. Schemes like BDGP and BEEP are important and central for the IFA to get the €300/cow payment it has lobbied for.
“I’d like to see the dairy-calf scheme expanded to include older calves or maybe cover the store cattle. We have to turn up the heat on our Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to make sure that the co-funding is put in place and that the €1.5bn carbon tax is targeted at low-income sectors like the drystock sector.”
“I think the suckler herd will remain stable.
“We need more research on what our hedges and grassland is sequestering. We have targets to meet that are written into law and I think if we are supported to change, farmers will respond.
“It would be ludicrous to think that the EU will be importing beef from South America and asking us to cut numbers. It can’t happen.
“On the dairy side of the house, I think stocking rates will come into question along with the derogation but one sector can’t be asked to carry the can for the other. That wouldn’t be fair.”