I am keenly aware that the past few months have been very challenging for beef farmers in particular following a difficult year for farm incomes in 2018 arising from weather conditions and price challenges. There was a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices lasting from autumn 2018 to spring 2019, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance.
In this context, the recent announcement by Commissioner Hogan of European Union exceptional aid for the Irish beef sector is very welcome. I have been making the case for some time for an exceptional aid package from the European Commission for Irish beef farmers at EU Council of Agriculture and Fisheries meetings and in direct consultation with the Commission. The submission made by my Department to the European Commission in request of the aid package is available on my Department’s website at www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmingsectors/beef.
This exceptional aid has been granted by the European Commission on the basis that the Irish beef sector is heavily reliant on export markets and is uniquely exposed to shifts in the UK market in particular. In addition, Ireland’s extensive beef system with its comparatively long production cycle presents challenges in responding to these market shifts. The Commission has also recognised that it is in the interests of the market stability of the EU beef sector to avoid a situation where downward price pressure on Irish beef spills over to other European member states.
This temporary exceptional aid provision is given effect through a Commission implementing regulation. This regulation, the draft of which is available on the Commission's website, will be published soon. Article 1.3 of the implementing regulation provides as follows:
The measures taken by Ireland shall be aimed at reducing production or restructuring the beef and veal sector and one or more of the following objectives:
(a) implementation of quality schemes in the beef and veal sector or projects aiming at promoting quality and value added;
(b) boosting market diversification;
(c) protecting and improving the farmers’ environmental, climate and economic sustainability.
Ireland must now notify the Commission, no later than 31 July 2019, of the measures to be taken in accordance with the regulation. My Department is currently working on the detailed parameters of an exceptional aid scheme, in co-operation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the European Commission. Further details on the aid scheme will be announced in due course following the appropriate stakeholder consultation. As the Deputy is aware, the Government has committed to matching the funding provided in this regard.