Irish beef farmers have already incurred losses of 101 million euro since last autumn because of the effects of Brexit, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Joe Healy said his organisation has calculated that âangry and frustratedâ beef farmers have already incurred the âunacceptableâ losses since last October, and are crying out for help.
âFarmers cannot afford to carry this loss and it must be made good by the Government and EU Commission,â Mr Healy said.
He believes large retailers and meat plants have taken advantage of anxiety around Brexit, which has resulted in a lack of competition for Irish farmers, affecting prices and income for small farms.
âWe had previously closed the gap with the average EU price for beef, but with Brexit it has fallen back, due to a severe lack of competition, and powerful retailers dictate cattle price at the expense of the farmer.
âThe minister (for agriculture Michael Creed) constantly reminds farmers he canât get involved with beef prices, but the Government has a responsibility to ensure a competitive market.â
It was also proposed that Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments be increased in line with inflation, as income dependency on the payments ran at between 96% and 114% of family farm incomes.
Mr Healy said the Governmentâs FoodWise 2025 strategy has failed to address the income crisis for beef farmers and will have to be revisited.
âWhile the strategy has delivered substantial growth in the volume and value of beef output, it has not worked for farmers,â he told the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
âLooking at data over the last seven years, beef exports have increased by 360 million euro, or 19%, but there has been no increase in cattle prices or farm incomes.â
The president of theÂ Irish CreameryÂ Milk Suppliersâ Association (ICMSA),Â Pat McCormack, told the committee that farming families are living in fear of inspections.
âWe talk about transparency but the truth is the primary producer has no confidence in higher up the chain,â he said.
âCosts are another significant issue and itâs escalating. Another cost is veterinary medicines, farmers are saying now they will go across to the six counties (Northern Ireland) to buy their animal medicines.
âPeople are crossing the border as there is a significant price difference.â
He added that Brexit has added to cost worries as farmers are buying livestock at a reduced rate, fearing losses due to the falling price of beef and dairy: âBrexit has lead to massive loss of confidence, farmers are hedging their bets, thereâs a fear, they lost their shirts in 2018, they donât have it to lose in 2019.â
He called on the Government to address the income crisis at farm level, and implement policies to deliver profitability to beef and livestock farmers.
The Government has been caught in a row with some rural TDs over the beef industry, as Fine Gael attempts to centre policies around action on climate change.
The move towards eating less meat and dairy has previously been labelled by independent TD Danny Healy-Rae as an âattack on rural Irelandâ.
âThe possibility of replacing cows with trees is tempting, but from previous experience we know quick fixes rarely work,â saidÂ Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association director Of operations Vincent Roddy.
âIn the INHFA we believe we can have our cows and carbon sequestration, this can be achieved with better supports for agri-forestry to help offset any increased emissions.â