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Welcoming today (Wed) the announcement by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys of an additional 100 dairy labour permits for workers from outside the EU/EEA.

“IFA made a detailed business case for this, and the Minister has responded positively following the initial run of 50 permits.”

He said the same approach was now needed for the pig and poultry sector, which are experiencing the same recruitment difficulties.

He said the same approach was now needed for the pig and poultry sectors, which are experiencing the same recruitment difficulties as dairy farmers, in the context of full employment in Ireland and tighter labour markets all over Europe.

“It is important that some of the details of the scheme be reviewed to make it more flexible and a better fit for farmers, who in many cases are first-time employers, without access to HR departments or consultants.  First of all, those who have applied in recent months must retain their place in the queue and not have to reapply for this new batch of permits,” Joe Healy said.

“There are many prospective farmer employers at different points of their expansion plans, who will now be keen to recruit well ahead of the busy spring 2020 period to ensure they can train and settle their new employees into the business.  This must be facilitated by prompt processing and greater feedback during the application process, with dedicated teams and contact points for farmer applicants within the Department,” he said.

“Finally, it is crucial that the Minister recognise the labour and skills shortages also affecting the Irish pig and poultry farming sectors. They too need to be able to access workers from outside the EU/EEA,” he concluded.

 

Addressing the National Economic Dialogue in Dublin Castle today, IFA Farm Business Chairman Martin Stapleton said the most significant challenge for the sector is the imminent EU Mercosur trade deal, which undermines our high production standards.

Through its reports, the EU Food and Veterinary Office has shown that Brazilian imports fail to meet EU standards on traceability, food safety, animal health, the environment and labour law. This is a sell out and agriculture cannot be a sacrificial lamb for trade.

Martin Stapleton said CAP budgetary cuts and a looming Brexit present major threats to the sector, and agriculture must be supported to achieve sectoral climate action targets.

“In Europe, we expect our Government to take a firm position on the Irish CAP Budget where reductions in spending, coupled with a changing of the goalposts, is not acceptable for farm families. Income must be protected. The next round of CAP negotiations cannot result in more unviable Irish family farms by 2027,” he said.

In the short term, Brexit is the biggest challenge. From last Autumn to this Spring there was massive damage to the incomes of livestock farmers caused by uncertainty in the markets.

Martin Stapleton acknowledged the vital support provided by the EU and the Irish Government to producers for these historic losses.

“This Autumn we are once again faced with renewed uncertainty and the possibly of a no-deal outcome, which if it happened would result in far greater losses. It is critical that the future trading relationship between the EU and UK remains a top priority for the Irish Government.”

The IFA Farm Business Chairman said a clear budget must be delivered to achieve the sectoral actions in the Government’s Climate Action Plan.  “Agriculture is our largest indigenous sector; it is vital for keeping rural areas alive and sustainable into the future,” he said.

Martin Stapleton identified three key areas for the upcoming Budget.

  • Incentivised schemes for renewables at farm level, which would also provide a potential income source. If the Government is serious about community led initiatives, then this must mean grid access, improved planning and increased support for micro-gen renewables. More generally we need leadership to guide our sector through the delivery of the Teagasc Climate Roadmap.

Furthermore, we need a Government Strategy for the development of forestry on unenclosed lands. And finally support for further research to ensure all carbon sequestered in grassland, forestry and hedgerows is recognised.

  • The suckler cow herd is worth €3bn to the Irish economy exporting to over 60 international markets. In order to stabilise numbers and improve farm incomes, a targeted payment in the region of €200 per suckler cow is required, structured around the RDP and the existing Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme and Beef Data Genomics Programme.

 

  • The removal of discrimination in the tax system between PAYE employees and the self-employed. The current €300 gap must be closed out in Budget 2020. Within the taxation system there are further opportunities to encourage positive change for the environment, such as accelerated capital allowance for emission efficient equipment and the extension of the VAT 58 form to include items such as health and safety equipment.

The IFA has today, 24 April committed to a sustained campaign against AIB’s proposal to include certain farmer loans as part of its recently announced loan sale.

Speaking as part of a group of IFA members outside the AIB AGM in Dublin, IFA’s Farm Business Chairman Martin Stapleton said, “It is wrong that AIB would sell these loans to a vulture fund, that is not interested in resolving issues by entering into long-term arrangements with farmers.”

Martin Stapleton continued, “This decision flies in the face of AIB’s marketing campaign which is built around ‘backing brave’. We want AIB to remove loans from the sale that have been restructured, or where the farmer is making a genuine attempt to pay or negotiate with the bank”.

“Irish taxpayers retain a 71 per cent stake in AIB. We bailed out this bank when it was on its knees, but there is no such mechanism is place for people who are genuinely doing their best to meet their repayments. The sale of farm loans occurs without any clear selection criteria being provided to the borrower. There is no transparency in how AIB approach these sales. The Minister for Finance needs to intervene to ensure that AIB is not allowed to abandon the Irish people. Farmers contributed significantly to keeping those very banks afloat during the crisis,” he said.

AIB engaged with many of these individual cases in the pursuit of a resolution, but they then continued with the sales. This gave false hope to farmers who are under serious pressure,” said IFA’s Farm Business Chairman.

“Over the next few weeks IFA will be bringing our campaign around Ireland. We intend to have a rolling presence outside branches around the country reminding customers about how these farmers have been treated by AIB and insisting that such loans are removed from the sale portfolio,” he said.

Reacting to the launch of the €300m Future Growth Loan Scheme for SMEs and farmers, IFA Farm Business Chairman Martin Stapleton said, “While we welcome this as a product for capital long-term investment, it is disappointing that there is no opportunity to apply for working capital under this scheme”.

He said the number of farmers who will consider this a valuable scheme will be small, but it will be a positive for those who do not have access to security.

The scheme is designed to support long-term capital investment and it will be open to farmers from April 17th. 40% available to the agri-food sector.

For loans up to €250,000, the maximum rate is 4.5%. For larger loans, a rate of 3.5% is available.

The minimum loan value is €50,000, with unsecured loans of up to €500,000 available. These loans are based on a repayment schedule of eight to ten years.

IFA Farm Business Chairman Martin Stapleton has said it’s vital that all possible actions are taken to stop AIB and Rabobank from selling further farm loans to unregulated vulture funds.  “Our view is that by selling these loans, banks which approved the loans in the first place are abdicating their responsibilities by throwing their customers to the wolves,” he said.

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