Processors give IFA assurances over levy payments

Farmers’ group says there is no move to follow Goodman’s ABP in changing system

IFA president Joe Healy: “It is very clear that farmers are angry over the level of Goodman control of the beef sector.” Photograph: Dave Meehan

IFA president Joe Healy: “It is very clear that farmers are angry over the level of Goodman control of the beef sector.” Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has played down speculation that other processors may follow Larry Goodman’s ABP in halting the automatic levy from farmers.

The lobby group said it had received assurances from processors that there would be no change in the way the levy was administered.

The tariff, also known as the European Involvement Fund (EIF) levy, is at the centre of an escalating row between the IFA and ABP, the State’s largest beef processor.

Opt in

Last week, the Goodman firm changed the way the levy was collected, putting the onus on farmers to “opt in”, meaning farmers would have to notify ABP if they want to pay it.

The IFA claimed this was a deliberate attempt to sabotage its funding arrangements and promptly cancelled ABP’s authorisation to collect it.

So far the organisation has not said how it plans to collect the €250,000- €300,000 a year it receives in levies from ABP suppliers.

The financial implications for the IFA could be very serious if other processors follow suit as EIF levies account for about €4.7 million of the IFA’s annual €13 million budget.

IFA president Joe Healy, however, told The Irish Times that many farmers and processors had been in contact over the last week strongly supporting the stance taken by IFA in its row with ABP.

“In recent days there has been contact with many of our officers around the country from collectors, confirming it was business as usual and they were happy to continue the current arrangement,” he said.

Competition issues

Mr Healy claimed ABP’s move was in retaliation for the IFA raising competition issues about the company’s plan to acquire 50 per cent of Slaney Meats, which would give it control of more than a quarter of beef processing here.

The deal directly related to the incomes of livestock farmers, he said.

ABP rejects IFA’s assertion about retaliation, describing it as “disingenuous”.

“ABP has challenged the independence of IFA and attempted to undermine the association by attacking our revenue stream. IFA will stand up to anybody who interferes in our work on behalf of farmers,” Mr Healy said.

“From the calls I have taken since last Wednesday, it is very clear that farmers are angry over the level of Goodman control of the beef sector and will not tolerate his interference,” he said.

An IFA-commissioned report submitted to the European competition authority is understood to state that the proposed Slaney deal is likely to weaken competition in a market already characterised by weak competition.

It is also said to conclude that the deal, if cleared, would make co-ordinated effects in the relevant markets more likely with consequent harm to farmers.

“Everybody I talk to says a strong IFA that represents farmers was never more important given the significant income pressures across all sectors,” Mr Healy said.