Some 18,000 farmers currently not achieving the 5% reduction requirement in the BEAM scheme could have to hand back as much as €40m out of the €77m fund.
IFA president, Tim Cullinan, said the farm organisation held a “constructive and frank” discussion with the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue and his senior officials yesterday regarding the 5% reduction requirement.
“This was a flawed requirement in the first instance and the COVID-19 controls have made the situation far worse with marts curtailed and farmers unable to engage as normal with their advisers. This must be recognised,” he said.
He said the €77m paid to 33,000 beef and suckler farmers for the market disruption between September 2018 and May 2019 caused by the devaluation of sterling arising from the Brexit vote must be safeguarded.
Cullinan said the primary objective must be to get a speedy resolution to this issue that protects this vital support for farmers, and avoids any market disruption caused by farmers trying to play catch up to meet the 5% reduction.
Extreme circumstances – Brexit and Covid-19
Declan Hanrahan, vice-chairman of the IFA livestock committee said the period of time over which farmers are expected to reduce their stock numbers has been severely disrupted by COVID-19 controls and Brexit uncertainty.
He added that under this cloud, it is unreasonable to expect farmers to make these changes to their farming practices.
Hanrahan highlighted said over this time, the mart service, which is the trusted and most used means for animal sales for farmers, operated in a very different and challenging environment for farmers and mart managers.
“The ability of farmers to meet this measure was further impeded by the lack of clear, up to date and easy to follow guidance on herd performance in meeting the target from the Department of Agriculture and the constraints through COVID-19 controls on engaging with their farm advisers.
Hanrahan said under the circumstances, it’s unreasonable to expect suckler and beef farmers to make fundamental changes to their farming systems to meet the 5% reduction requirement.
He said, in addition, we have had the loss of the important foodservice sector for our beef and the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit up to Christmas Eve.
“Farmers cannot be expected to make fundamental changes to their businesses with all of this uncertainty hanging over their heads.”
Concluding, he said we have to avoid a situation where farmers who signed up to the BEAM scheme in good faith are penalised, when they cannot meet the conditions due to the extreme circumstances.