Expanded Rural Social Scheme to accept only over-25s for a limited time
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has given some details on the deployment of additional resources for the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) and Farm Assist, including a six-year limit for the RSS.

While the RSS had until now provided farmers and fishermen on certain social welfare benefits with additional community paid work without time constraints, Minister Varadkar has said that this would change for the 500 new places promised under Budget 2017.

“All new entrants to the scheme will have to be over 25 years of age,” he told the Dáil. “There will, however, be a six-year limit for new entrants as we want some turnover within the scheme, rather than people being on it for life, and we want other people from the community to have the opportunity to take part,” he added.

Early 2017 allocation

The minister said that his department had sought expressions of interest from the local bodies implementing the scheme and received requests for 1,000 places. He said he intended to allocate the 500 new places “as early as possible in 2017”, taking into account “the number of places already allocated, the demand for places in particular areas, work opportunities available and the numbers of farmers and fishermen and women in receipt of income support”.

The additional funding will bring the total number of RSS places to 3,100, for an annual budget of €47.6m.

During the Dáil debate, Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan expressed concern based on his contacts with the bodies running the scheme that the overall six-year time limit to participate in the scheme may be broken up into three-year maximum consecutive periods. Minister Varadkar did not respond to his comment.

’Unacceptable’

IFA rural development chair Joe Brady described the proposed changes to the terms and conditions of the RSS as “unacceptable”. He, too, was aware of proposals to break up participation in the scheme into two three-year periods. “The proposal to impose a three-year limit on any farmer who takes up one of the 500 new places on the scheme is a retrograde step as the RSS must operate in a flexible manner and give certainty to those farmers who partake in it,” said Brady, adding that the 25 minimum age would undermine the progress offered by additional places.

Farm Assist boost from mid-March

Minister Varadkar also said that the measures introduced in Budget 2017 to reverse cuts to the Farm Assist scheme would apply from 15 March.

Farm income and other income from off-farm self-employment will then be assessed at 70%, down from 100%, for means-tested access to the scheme. An additional annual disregard of €254 will apply for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and other children.

Read more

Increase of €5 in weekly rate for Farm Assist in Budget 2017

Green diesel prices ease
Prices for green diesel and kerosene have reduced following last week’s increases.

Prices for green diesel and kerosene have reduced following last week’s increase.

Farmers are securing loads of green diesel at 72c to 74c/l for 1,000 litres delivered including VAT, while kerosene is ranging from 73c to 75c/l for 1,000 litres delivered including VAT.

In general, prices have remained steady over the last month since the ease of prices in July.

Oil trends have seen a slight decrease, with oil prices hovering around $68 US per barrel.

Prices are expected to rise towards the beginning of next week.

Price volatility is set to continue, as oil prices remain difficult to predict.

British farmers call 'drought summit'
The National Farmers Union (NFU) will hold an emergency meeting with British authorities this week to address the impact of this summer's heatwave on agriculture.

The NFU will host a "drought summit" in London on Wednesday with representatives from other farming organisations, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Rural Payments Agency and farming charities.

Despite this weekend's rain over parts of the UK, the NFU warned that many parts of England and Wales haven’t seen any significant rain since the end of May resulting in "tinderbox conditions".

The meeting will address the availability of forage as livestock farmers dig into winter reserves, water resources for irrigated crops and growing conditions for cereals including the "risk of standing crop fires".

"There could be serious concerns for many farmers if this extended spell of warmer, drier weather continues as the long-range forecast suggests," said NFU president Minette Batters. "This unprecedented spell of weather really should be a wake-up call for us all. It’s a timely reminder that we shouldn’t take food production for granted. Farming is one of the most affected industries when it comes to managing volatility."

Read more

Temperatures soar to over 30°C

Satellite images show extent of ground scorched by drought

All-island concern for winter fodder stocks

French MPs call for food safety overhaul after Lactalis scandal
Recommendations from a parliamentary report into the contamination of infant formula in France could have ripple effects across a key industry for Irish dairy processors.

A parliamentary investigation into the contamination of infant formula made by French dairy processor Lactalis has recommended tighter government control funded by a new levy on the industry.

A rare strain of salmonella found in Lactalis milk powders made 41 babies ill last year. It exposed a series of failures in the identification of the problem by the manufacturer and in the recall of contaminated products by wholesalers, retailers, hospitals and creches, according to French MPs.

Government agencies tasked with managing this type of crisis "work efficiently, but each in its own corner, which leads to significant inefficiency of the system as a whole".

The parliamentary commission recommends to merge all services involved in alerting the public on food safety crises into one agency under the Department of Agriculture. This authority should run a single website, mobile app and phone number to alert consumers on food product recalls and receive tip-offs from the public.

Processor levy

Up to 900 additional inspectors should be recruited to perform more frequent checks at food factories. This would be funded through a levy on food processors recently authorised by European legislation. This would cost €72m working out at an average of €190 per food processing site annually, which MPs said would have a "very limited impact" on consumer prices.

"The report rejects all proposals to outsource checks to independent certified bodies," insisting on the need for government agencies to retain control of the entire process. Further mistrust in the industry's self-regulation shows in the recommendation to 'stress-test' product recall procedures.

"It is not acceptable that a scandal had to erupt for failures in the implementation of product recalls by retailers to be exposed," MPs wrote.

All checkouts should be equipped with software blocking the sale of recalled products and emergency procedures should allow the authorities to use bank card details to trace consumers who have bought contaminated food, they added.

Read more

Lactalis forced to publish partial accounts

Lactalis contamination went on for 12 years

83 countries affected by major Lactalis infant formula recall

Responsibility of industry leaders