Farmers face €40m clawback on flawed BEAM scheme

Farming reporter

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Farming reporter

Tipperary’s Tim Cullinan sets out his stall on why he should become the IFA’s next president

IFA president, Tim Cullinan

IFA president, Tim Cullinan, said IFA held a constructive and frank discussion with the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and his senior officials yesterday, Monday, January 19 on the 5% reduction requirement in BEAM scheme.

“There are 18,000 farmers currently not achieving the reduction, which could see these farmers having to hand back as much as €40m out of €77m in the scheme,” he said. 

“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.

Mr 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.

Declan Hanrahan, vice chairperson 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 said under this cloud, it’s unreasonable to expect farmers to make these changes to their farming practices.

He 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.

Mr 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 food service sector for our beef and the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit up to Christmas Eve. This must all be taken into account.  Farmers cannot be expected to make fundamental changes to their businesses with all of this uncertainty hanging over their heads.

The IFA livestock vice chairperson said we have to avoid a situation where farmers who signed up to the scheme in good faith are penalised, when they cannot meet the conditions due to the extreme circumstances.