9 August 2002

EU proposals threaten Irish production

PROPOSALS for EU reform will devastate Irish beef producers who have expanded suckler herds, based on exporting 85% of beef produced, under agreements which were to last until 2007.

"Policies are being set by people far removed from agriculture," says Derek Deane, Irish Farmers Association national livestock chairman. "People dont understand food production because we have plenty of food. But if we rely on another country for beef supply, disease could switch that off."

Mr Deane, who farms 85 suckler cows and a 250-ewe flock in Co Carlow, also believes policies are contradictory. "They are looking to save money, although they also want cleaner, safer food.

"As they are, policies will favour smaller producers in the EU. We are concerned about competing with Australia and South America because their feed lots and mild winters allow a lower cost system.

"The new policies will bring an end to commercial beef production in Ireland without a 50% increase in price to £1.60-1.80/kg," he says.

"Many producers have developed their businesses on a certain quota, expanding herds and improving supply to the market place. Now we are in limbo and are facing moving goal posts."

He believes proposals will not achieve what the EU needs. "The percentage of product value producers receive every year gets lower and lower. We have support, but other industries have fed on it. Prices are on the floor and that should be a concern to agricultural governments."

EU farms commissioner Franz Fischler believes the proposals will mean producers maintain rural environments in exchange for maintenance money, such as by planting woodland, says Mr Deane. But poor farming areas will just revert to trees. We are seeing that already in some places.

"If the proposals come in, affecting all the livestock industry, they will actually reduce jobs in rural areas. These areas will be devastated.

"There is hope. Producers are optimistic by nature. But we are at a point of huge change.

"Europe is the leading economy and its expansion from 300m to 500m people is good, but we have to have a sensible agricultural policy." &#42