I am aware of the report referenced by the Deputy.
My Department works closely with Teagasc on monitoring family farm incomes. I understand that Teagasc will shortly publish analysis of a range of scenarios examining in detail the possible income effects arising from the current COVID pandemic.
The agri-food sector is an essential part of the economic and social fabric of Ireland, especially in rural and coastal areas, and I am acutely aware of the issues presented to the agri-food sector in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. My Department and I are working to ensure that business and services to farmers can continue, keeping food and other processing facilities operational, ensuring that payments and commercial activities that are necessary to protect farm incomes can continue.
There are likely to be significant economic impacts for the agri-food sector, arising from reduced demand in key markets around the world. The loss of high value food service customers is already of significant immediate concern.
The response to the economic impacts on the sector should include a strong, shared EU response, using the instruments available in the Common Agricultural Policy. I have already highlighted to Commissioner Wojciechowski the serious consequences for farmers and the food industry and the need to ensure that the full range of market supports available under the Common Market Organisation Regulation are made available. These supports include Aids to Private Storage and Exceptional Aid measures, flexibilities when it comes to on-farm inspections and early payment of the Basic Payment Scheme.
Following Ireland’s efforts in leading an agreed EU-27 statement on the need for further supports, the Commission have introduced Aids to Private Storage for Dairy (MP, Butter, Cheese), Beef and Sheepmeat. Private Storage Aid (PSA) is a risk management tool / safety net available to EU producers of certain agricultural products under the CMO regulation (1308/2013). The aim is to facilitate producers to store the product for a stipulated temporary storage period.
I am also working with my colleagues in Government to ensure that all businesses, including those in the agri-food sector, get access to suitable supports, and the measures in place are being kept under review.
Working with my colleague Minister Humphreys, I have ensured that 40% of the €250 million COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme will be available for food businesses. Similarly, 40% of an additional €200 million tranche of the Future Growth Loan Scheme will be ring fenced to provide long-term investment support for primary producers and food businesses. I continue to liaise with the banks on liquidity for the primary sector, and also want to highlight the availability of working capital assistance to farmers and fishers through Microfinance Ireland’s COVID-19 Business Loan. We will continue to keep the finance needs of the whole agri-food sector under review.
I have already provided an additional €20m in supports for the beef sector in Budget 2020, on top of the €20 million provided last year for the BEEP pilot. This year’s scheme – the Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme (Sucklers) is a straightforward scheme, which can deliver a significant cash-flow injection,
and I am pleased to announce that over 27,000 farmers applied by the closing date of 15/05/20.
Conscious of the cash flow pressures on farms at present, I have brought forward €26m in GLAS payments by a month, and these funds were paid recently. Balancing payments to participants in the Organic Farming Scheme have also been brought forward. I have also increased funding in my Department’s Calf Welfare Investment Scheme from €1.5 million to €4 million, to assist farmers with extra calves. A range of practical flexibilities have been introduced in departmental schemes, including, for example, the extension of completion deadlines for TAMS by 3 months, and the submission for Nitrates records to the end of June. My Department has also worked to ensure that the supply chain continues to function. Critical state services in dairy and meat processing plants continue to function so that farmers have an outlet for their produce, a protocol has been developed for the continued operation of marts, albeit on a limited basis, and the critical certification and other services required to support exports of live animals and products continue to operate.
My Department and agencies will continue to monitor the impacts on the agri-food sector as the situation evolves, and to provide appropriate supports to the sector. Senior officials from my Department remain in constant contact with stakeholders right across the sector to share information on emerging issues and contingency planning, and we will continue to develop appropriate supports as the situation evolves.