Brexit and beef farmers: Plans for exceptional aid discussed
Farm incomes could be hit by up to 13% despite trade deal, McConalogue believes
Beef prices have held up relatively well in the immediate aftermath of Brexit but Ministers have been warned of potential disruption to come. Photograph: Todd Korol/Reuters
The Government is discussing plans for exceptional aid to beef farmers despite the presence of a Brexit trade deal, The Irish Times has learned.
While beef prices have held up relatively well in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, Ministers have been told of the potential for significant impact at farm level, and for beef farmers in particular, down to market disruption arising from non-tariff barriers.
The stronger beef price means interventions are unlikely to be needed imminently, but Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said while it was “heartening” to see the price hold up, the situation will be closely monitored.
Work being undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine suggests that the non-tariff barriers may translate directly into lower prices at the farm gate for beef, and lower farm incomes, leading to the need for significant aid to the sector.
The department believes farm incomes could be hit by up to 13 per cent due to non-tariff barriers, even though a deal has been struck.
“The Government has been very clear from the outset that agri-food and fisheries will be the most impacted sectors, including in a deal scenario. We are committed to working with the agri-food sector to support it to meet the challenge of Brexit,” Mr McConalogue said.
Supports being discussed include additional funding for rural development initiatives and local food supply chains, it is understood, as well as support for the tillage and horticulture sectors.
However, demands from the food processing industry for an export credit insurance scheme are unlikely to be acceded to.
It is understood that there would be significant complications in putting such a support scheme in place. Unlike many EU countries, Ireland does not have such a scheme in existence.
A capital investment scheme for the agri-food sector has already been agreed worth €100 million in additional exchequer funding. The scheme is aimed at helping food processors modernise and diversify after Brexit.
The fisheries sector, which is expected to be hit harder than farmers in post-Brexit redrawing of fisheries rules, may also see the introduction of a permanent fleet decommissioning scheme this year to compensate trawler owners whose livelihoods are threatened.
With Ireland’s fleet of trawlers likely to be permanently smaller after Brexit, supports for coastal communities have been identified as a key policy by industry groups.
Mr McConalogue said that the outcome of the Brexit negotiations “does involve the loss of quota and between now and 2026 and we’re very much aware that is something that will have a real impact on the fisheries sector”. About 15 per cent of the Irish fisheries quota will be impacted over the next four years.
As well as the permanent mothballing of parts of the fleet, a temporary fleet tie-up scheme may be put in place from the second quarter of the year in order to alleviate initial impacts.
In addition to this, the Government is examining investment support schemes for seafood processors and other aquaculture businesses, designed to be spread over the coming years.
There are also plans to encourage coastal communities deprived of income to economically diversify, into marine tourism or marine infrastructural development – the redevelopment of small harbours and piers, for example.
In addition to examining diversification, Mr McConalogue said he hoped value could be added within fisheries. “[Marine tourism] is an obvious route in terms of creating additional economic activity, but we’ll be looking at working with fishing communities themselves on adding value to the fish catch itself, and in terms of developing additional enterprise that might evolve from it.”