‘If you like going to the mart every week, a producer group is not for you’
A discussion with three farmers who were members of producer groups was held at Sheep 2018 to find out what were the benefits, challenges and potentials of such groups.

In many areas of the country, farmers have organised groups and pooled resources to increase the end value of their product and create linkage, transport and marketing channels with potential customers.

At Sheep 2018, the Irish Farmers Journal chaired a discussion with three farmers who were members of such groups to find out what were the benefits, challenges and potentials of such groups.

With much of the stands at the event focused on increasing stocking rate and ewe prolificacy, there were criticisms from some that the sheep sector was going towards numbers and was forgeting about quality.

Donal Mee of the QuelEUtex Lamb Producer Group was keen to emphasise that was not the case in his group.

“We were set up in 2016 to get a number of Texel and Beltex breeders together to produce lambs for the Belgian market. It’s a niche market, but there are niche markets out there - it’s not all about numbers.”

That opinion was echoed by Joe Scahill of the Mayo Mule and Greyface Group.

“You’d get numbers any day of the week, but it’s the quality that’s important. We set that standard for ourselves and by doing that, we now have good-quality breeding sheep and then you collect a certain premium for that ewe.”

He said that it had taken a long number of years for his group to get to where it was when it came to securing a premium for stock.

Ken Mathews from the Offaly Lamb Producer Group pointed out that the primary function his group was to secure the best price it could for supplies, along with some added benefits.

“The real value is the ease. For people who are working off farm, their lambs are collected for them, so that they can get their day's work done. It definitely helps the part-time guys out,” he said.

All three members of the panel agreed that the most important things for a group to succeed were good organisation and committed membership.

While all three highlighted the positives of group membership they did say it was not for everyone. “If you like going to the mart every week you should never join a producer group because you’ll either cause so much hassle in the group or you’ll feel you’re losing out,” Ken said.

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UK will not source alternative beef and dairy overnight - Hogan
Commissioner Hogan said Irish products would continue going to the UK as consumers would not lower their standards and change their dietary habits overnight.

The United Kingdom will not be able to source alternatives to Irish beef and dairy overnight European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has said.

Commissioner Hogan said it was important not to have a panicked reaction to the UK's revealing of its no-deal tariff plan last week. While 87% of products would enter the UK tariff free, Irish beef and cheese would be disproportionately affected.

At a media briefing in Brussels, the Commissioner said it was unlikely that UK consumers would change their preferences overnight and were unlikely to accept lower food standards.

He said the UK announcement had been made with little thought, to deflect attention from chaos in the House of Commons. The Commissioner described Brexit as "the most amateurish project ever".

Supports

To reassure farmers, Hogan said the EU had considerable experience in dealing with threats to farmers, citing BSE, foot and mouth disease and the Russian embargo.

The supports available to farmers will be dependent on the outcome of Brexit, he said.

Ending the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit is the priority for the European Commission as a whole, Hogan said. He added that EU member states want certainty given the energy that had been expended to date.

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Farmers urged to check eligible area under new payment maps
The Department of Agriculture held an information meeting on the Land Parcel Identification System rebuild in the Carnbeg Hotel on Wednesday 20 March.

Farmers affected by new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) maps for 2019 need to ensure that they check the maximum eligible area (MEA) when they make their application. This was the key message coming from the Department at its Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) rebuild information meetings in Louth.

One farmer told the Irish Farmers Journal that he saw a slight change in his eligible area in one field that went from 3.9ha to 4.01ha. He noted that if he did not adjust his claim area to the new larger area, then he would not benefit from it.

“If you increase your Maximum Eligible Areas (MEA) you do need to tick the box,” Department official Eoin Dooley said.

“There is a process coming in this year that if you want to increase your MEA you can email your geotagged photo into us and we will clear that straight away. If you increase above the MEA we will have to check it.”

However, if there is a reduction in the eligible area this will automatically reduce the farmer’s claimed area to match the new eligible area.

Payment

Farmers and advisors at both information meetings said that the Department, in previous years, has sent claims back where a farmer has increased his/her area. In these instances they say payments are held up.

“It has been the policy that if you make a query on eligibility you will be last to be paid,” one advisor in Louth said.

Fintan O’Brien from the Department responded by saying: “I can give you an undertaking that is not our policy and that will not happen. The facility is there to change the MEA. Each exclusion is given a unique identifier, you put in a note to say that was removed.”

The normal appeals system remains in place for farmers in Louth that wish to query the new maps.

The two information meetings for the LPIS rebuild in Louth are now complete. Some farmers told the Irish Farmers Journal that they had already made their BPS application and others said that the meeting was a helpful clarification on what they should do when applying.

Tillage farmer Pat McGuinness was there to find out why the online application system does not allow field names to be included beside field numbers, something he said is important for Irish heritage and would make the application process easier.

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Organic group holds first meeting
Government and industry representatives are set to monitor the growth of Ireland's organic sector over the next seven years.

The new Organic Strategy Implementation Group held its first meeting in Dublin on Thursday, tasked with carrying out the strategy unveiled in January for the sector.

The group mirrors the Food Wise 2025 implementation group, with Government and industry representatives rolling out a strategy over several years.

The organic strategy aims to grow certified production across all sectors, with a focus on tillage. It aims to double the area under organic cereals and pulses by 2025.

"Implementation of the actions identified within this strategy are a priority and critical to the further development of the organic sector in Ireland," said Minister of State Andrew Doyle.

Former Department official Martin Heraghty chairs the group, which comprises of:

  • Karen Tyner, senior manager, Bord Bia.
  • Dan Clavin, Teagasc organic specialist advisor.
  • Catherine Morrison, project development manager, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).
  • Gillian Westbrook, general manager, Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA).
  • Colin Keogh, quality assurance manager and senior inspector, Organic Trust.
  • The group will meet twice a year and invite representatives from other organisations to provide input. It will report periodically to the Food Wise 2025 high-level implementation group.

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