Navigating Global Trade: there must be Brexit support for Irish farmers – Hogan
At the Irish Farmers Journal Navigating Global Trade event, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan said Ireland could ignore 99% of the howling in Westminster on Brexit.

There is no doubt that Brexit is the single most disruptive shock to Irish trade in this or arguably any generation, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has said.

In his keynote address at the Irish Farmers Journal Navigating Global Trade event in the RDS on Friday, the Commissioner said that Irish farmers, their families, their business partners, their local communities and the wider agri-food industry have been in a state of high anxiety in recent times, understandably so and through no fault of their own.

He said that there is recognition across the EU of Ireland's vulnerability in relation to Brexit, particularly the beef sector.

“There must be additional support available for Irish farmers. Irish agri-food companies have already been granted state aid relief,” he said.

Stress

The Commissioner said that further stress should not be added to the current situation.

“Instead, I want to give you some assurances. There has been so much noise and nonsense coming out of Westminster in the last few weeks – it would be virtually impossible for a busy working family to follow all the developments.

“So I hope you will allow me to cut through the noise and nonsense and get down to the heart of the matter.

“The reality is that you can ignore 99% of the howling in Westminster, which to be perfectly honest is becoming an embarrassment at this point and a stain on the UK's standing in the world.

“The vote on Wednesday night in the House of Commons means that a small bit of common sense has finally prevailed, and the worst-case scenario of a crash-out Brexit is now receding into the shadows where it belongs.

“Yes, it is true that an 'accidental' no-deal is still possible, but the British parliament has shown that it will not allow this nightmare to happen. There are still thankfully a few grown-ups left in the room,” he said.

Negotiating leverage

The Commissioner said that one of the chief threats hanging over the Brexit talks has gone, that no-deal will no longer be used as negotiating leverage.

“It should lead to a more mature final discussion between the UK and the EU. In relation to what comes next, we have to wait to see what the House of Commons decides.

“But we can say with confidence that the only way for Britain to leave the EU will be with an agreement. And if that cannot be achieved by 29 March, the exit date will have to change. Sensible cross-party collaboration in Westminster is now the way to go to find a path out of this mess,” he said.

Tariffs

Commissioner Hogan said that Ireland needs to stay calm and not react to the UK's tariff statement published during the week.

He said it was a political stunt “pure and simple”, designed to change the news cycle in the UK and weaken the unity of the EU 26 in relation to the Irish backstop.

“I want to assure Irish farmers that the EU's resolve will not buckle. Solidarity behind Ireland remains rock solid, steadfast, and unwavering. So while negotiations continue in London, back on the ranch in Brussels the EU institutions are calmly and patiently planning ahead.

“My services in DG AGRI and experts across the European Commission have been working tirelessly to put preparations in place for all possible Brexit outcomes, and Ireland has been the absolute priority in their minds.

“Today [Friday], DG Agri will launch an online portal to highlight in detail all the work that has gone into Brexit preparedness. This will be a very useful port of call for farmers and agri-food operators who want to find out more about the EU supports available.

“It is very important to recognise that while Brexit is unquestionably a huge challenge, the European Commission has form in responding both quickly and decisively to huge challenges,” he said.

No change to farmer payments

In spite of the financial challenges arising from Brexit and the consequent loss of €12bn from the EU budget, he guaranteed no change in direct payments to Irish farmers in 2019.

He also said that state aid support, additional promotion measures and additional market support measures will be available.

“The Commission's historical commitment is that 'no individual Member State will suffer disproportionately' in a time of crisis and that certainly applies to Ireland today,” he said.

Global trade

Looking at the global trading picture, Commissioner Hogan said the macro-economic reality is that the world economy is slowing down.

“Growth is easing in Europe, China and the USA. This country, and particularly our world-class agri-food industry, is going to need exports in the coming years.

“We are producing more and we have to finds way to export more. That is the reality of life.

“We need the global trading system to remain supple and safe. We cannot afford tariffs and other barriers to trade, like has been proposed by the UK but also exercising the minds of the White House in recent times.

We cannot afford tariffs and other barriers to trade

“I believe we should continue down the road of greater market orientation, improving our competitiveness at home while making the most of new opportunities abroad.

“In relation to the UK market, the competition will be unable to fill market demand overnight and consumers in the UK are not going to stop eating high quality Irish beef overnight either,” he said.

Sensitivities

On trade deals, the Commissioner said that Europe is fully aware that trade openings can be very sensitive and appear threatening for other sectors.

“Beef and rice, sheepmeat, sugar and poultry will face stronger competition within and outside the EU. We will therefore continue to duly recognise and reflect the sensitivity of those products in trade negotiations, making sure that we obtain an outcome which provides sufficient safeguards to protect our producers.

“We have to remember that trade only works when the right support structures are in place.

“The EU continues to be the global standard-bearer for free, fair, rules-based trade.

“We will not flinch in our defence of the multilateral order, unlike some of our global partners who seem to think that they can only pick out the parts they like best, a bit like someone picking all the purple Skittles out of the packet,” he said.

Mercosur

On Mercosur, the Commissioner said that the Commission remains committed to reaching a comprehensive, balanced and ambitious agreement.

He said there will never be a deal that fails to meet EU SPS and environmental standards and that that also applies to any UK deal.

Building on quality Irish beef

Commissioner Hogan said that growing Ireland’s exports is a business imperative.

“With that in mind, I think it is a very good idea to build on the excellent global reputation of quality 'Irish beef' and it would be worthwhile applying again for a PGI registration.

“This would add value in some of Ireland’s main markets and would help distinguish the product against competing products.

“If Irish farmers can identify specific products for which Ireland is famous, and build a proposal around that it has every chance of success. But let me stress that a quality 'Irish beef' application cannot refer to all beef produced in Ireland,” he said.

The Commissioner said that EU quality designations are not only an indication of provenance and geographic origin – they are built on the reputation and quality of a specific product.

“We are therefore talking about beef that is certified from the grass-based suckler system – 100% or 95% grass-haylage-silage; a quality product with cream-yellow fat and the characteristic darker red colour of true grass-based product.

“A PGI passes a message of quality and authenticity to consumers. I welcome that the Department met with DG AGRI experts and producers on 1 March in Dublin to discuss the conditions for a PGI proposal,” he said.

EU solidarity

Concluding, the Commissioner said he wanted to mention one other issue.

“I mentioned earlier the importance of EU solidarity and the unwavering support of the 26 EU MS for Ireland during the Brexit debacle. However, we have to bear in mind that solidarity works both ways. In the marketplace, Irish operators need to compete but we have to behave responsibly.

“I trust you will bear this in mind as you assess the European marketplace for new opportunities post-Brexit,” he said.

The Navigating Global Trade Conference is brought to you by the Irish Farmers Journal and Grant Thornton and is supported by the European Commission. This is a citizen’s dialogue event.

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Co Clare pupils win science prize for research on cows and climate
Four schoolgirls fed cattle seaweed, surveyed farmers at the mart and visited milk processing plants to enter the Intel Mini Scientist competition.

Sixth class pupils Méabh McGonagle, Jennifer Mullen, Kate Strogen and Méabh Keenan fom Saint John's Primary School in Cratloe, Co Clare, have won the best project book award in the Intel Mini Scientist competition for their project "Cows: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".

"There were 8,000 pupils at the start with 2,300 projects," Mullen told the Irish Farmers Journal.

"We made it into the top 1%" at the national final at NUI Maynooth this month.

Strogen said the group decided to study dairy production after hearing about greenhouse gas emissions from cattle.

"The good is the milk, the bad is the emissions, the ugly is the slaughter and slurry," she explained. Although none of the four live on farms, they have farmers among their close relatives and worked with them for their research.

Food safety

"We heard about Joe Dorgan, a farmer from Canada, who found that by feeding seaweed you can reduce emissions," said Keenan. The girls then spent time with a farmer in Co Galway to feed seaweed to cows themselves and observe their reactions.

They also visited the Lullaby fresh milk plant in Kanturk, Co Cork, and the Wyeth milk powder factory in Askeaton, Co Limerick. There, they saw how infant formula is produced and discuss the food safety aspects of seaweed-diet milk with the company.

We found only one vegetarian and no vegan

Next, they studied public opinion, starting with children's attitudes to vegan and vegetarian diets in their own school – going vegetarian themselves for two days.

"From third to sixth class, we found only one vegetarian and no vegan," said McGonagle.

One percent of pupils would considered going vegan and 8% vegetarian. Giving up milk chocolate emerged as a major barrier to veganism, she added.

The pupils went to Sixmilebridge Mart to survey farmers and found that 35% would be willing to experiment with feeding their cows seaweed, and this jumped to 85% if there received financial incentives to do so.

We emailed the Minister for Agriculture about it

The four girls have been sharing the results of their research. "We emailed the Minister for Agriculture about it, made posters around the mart and gave them to farmers," said McGonagle. They received a reply from Department of Agriculture officials saying they would keep the suggestions for ongoing environmental policy development.

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Seaweed vs methane research moves to practical phase

MEP calls for end to 'forestry land grab' in Leitrim
An event called 'Fighting the land grab!' has been organised to take place in Co Leitrim by Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy on Thursday 21 March.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has called for an end to a forestry “land grab” in Co Leitrim.

The Midlands–Northwest representative said farmers were being priced out of available land by foreign corporations and vultures funds availing of government and EU grants, tax breaks and low-cost loans.

“Rather than helping the environment, forests in Leitrim have become ecological dead zones. Peatland and animal nesting grounds have been transformed into fast-growing Sitka plantations subjected to clear-felling,” said Carthy.

Policy

As a result of the forest strategy pursued by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the local community in Leitrim has suffered while watching the county change beyond recognition, according to Carthy.

A public meeting called 'Fighting the land grab!' has been organised for Thursday 21 March and will take place in the Bush Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon.

Kelsey Perlman of FERN, an EU-level organisation dedicated to protecting forests as well as the rights of communities living close to them, has been invited to speak at the event.

According to a report published by the organisation, the forest policy employed in Leitrim is an example of worst practise across 11 EU member states.

Sligo-Leitrim TD Martin Kenny will also contribute to the event and will focus on the current Irish forestry policy.

Delivery

“Thursday’s event is an opportunity to inform the public about policies at a national and European level and how they can be changed," said Carthy.

"The policies pursued by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have caused damage that won’t be easily undone.

"So, we have to start by putting an end to the current land grab and proceed to delivering a forestry strategy that works for the environment, for the local economy and for communities.”

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Weekly weather: calm and mild to Friday
As high pressure builds, a lot of dry and calm weather is expected in the coming week.

Land is very heavy at the moment but it should improve slightly over the coming week, according to the latest farming forecast from Met Éireann. The week ahead will be much drier than average with less than half the seasonal rainfall amount expected in most areas.

An improvement in temperatures is expected with levels one or two degrees above average.

Some opportunities for spraying are likely at times.

Daily forecast

Monday

Monday will start rather cloudy with scattered outbreaks of rain and drizzle but good dry periods too. Highs of 8-10°C in moderate westerly breezes. Mostly dry under broken cloud on Monday night. Some frost locally too. Lows of 1-6°C, in light west to southwest breezes. Later in the night patchy drizzle and mist will move in across Atlantic counties, mainly near coasts.

Tuesday

Overall the outlook from Met Éireann is a mild week from Tuesday through to Friday. Tuesday will be mostly cloudy with patchy rain, but overall a good deal of dry weather with the best of any sunny spells in the east. Milder than recent days with highs of 10-14°C in mostly moderate southwesterly winds. Largely dry overnight with just light breezes and minimum temperatures of 5-8°C.

Wednesday

Generally dry with some sunny spells and light southwest breezes. It will be duller though across Atlantic counties with the odd spot of drizzle. Pleasantly mild with highs of 11-16°C and best values across the west midlands.

Thursday

Some patchy rain across the west and northwest where it will be rather cloudy, otherwise a lot of dry weather across the country with some brighter spells. Highs of 11-15°C in no more than moderate westerly breezes.

Friday

A breezier day with fresh and gusty southwest winds. A few well-scattered showers are likely but overall dry with some sunny spells. Highs of 11-14°C.