The beef exemption (BEAM) has now expired and many will be happy to see the reverse.
there have been repeated calls for rule changes and reviews. But the only scrutiny needed is how a €100m scheme – which should have been good news – went sour.
Autumn 2018 was a difficult time for beef farms across Europe, with low beef prices lasting into spring 2019.
Work began in autumn 2018 to find ways to get financial support for Irish beef farmers to pay the mounting bills. Not an easy task when the entire EU beef market was under pressure.
The Brexit vote had taken place in June 2016 and the IFA Livestock Committee recognized that the best opportunity for financial help from Brussels was in the dispute over political interference in the market.
We had to prove this with statistics and data, because asking for money without building a solid argument doesn’t work in Brussels.
The €100 million was not achieved through press releases, protests or gatherings where farmers spoke passionately about how much money they are losing.
This was accomplished by identifying the necessary legislation, building a strong body of evidence and months of tireless lobbying.
A lot of time and effort went into building the case and there was little confidence that it could be delivered. The work of Commissioner Phil Hogan and then Secretary of Agriculture Michael Creed was crucial.
The EU’s conditions for receiving these funds were simple:
Brussels was willing to put up €50m if the Irish government matched it.
There is no precedent for Brussels compensating 100 percent of losses caused by political intervention in the market; 50 percent are well above the normal level of remuneration.
■ Quality assurance or environmental program
Brussels will not give compensation for market disruptions just so people can go back to doing exactly what they were doing before.
Changes in the way we market our beef have been called for. At that time 95 per cent of Irish beef was already quality assured so this was not difficult from a national perspective.
■ Reduction of manure nitrogen by 5%
This was the most controversial condition. Two things are important here. Firstly, the Irish herd available for slaughter was forecast to decrease by 6 per cent over the reference period. In fact, it fell 7 percent.
Secondly, when it became known that Ireland had convinced the Commission that we needed compensation (despite the fact that we had a higher beef price than France at the time), France asked for a similar compensation, which would have been in multiples of EUR 50 million.
Demands for support from flower and flower bulb producers began from Holland, followed by fruit and vegetable growers across Europe.
It had to be argued that 5 per cent less Irish beef would result in a stronger market for all EU beef and as the forecast called for a larger 6 per cent drop from a national perspective it worked for the finishers.
The Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1132 of the EU Commission was used as an indication of market disruptions.
■ Voluntary regulation
No one was forced to sign up.
All of these conditions worked flawlessly when it came to where the €100 million losses at grafters had occurred. A person who grinds down 100 cattle a year to offer €10,000 to have five fewer cattle isn’t a bad deal.
I’ve spoken to several finishers who have managed to streamline their units and actually get more cattle through their systems while still achieving their 5 percent reduction.
The real trouble was not in Brussels but in Ireland. The money was paid upfront, before farmers had to do anything, which is unlikely to happen again given the criticism of the scheme.
The fragile nature of the cattle breeders’ representation forced a populist approach to the terms of the deal. Factory feedlots were reluctant to join the program when Minister Creed expelled them.
The allocation of the €100 million led to an increased split between mother milk farmers, final breeders and dairy farmers who breed cattle. This internal division was watched in disbelief by the Commission in Brussels and left them feeling uneasy.
Dairy farmers who ended their own stock and had a vested interest in raising good meat animals were driven out.
Finishers who were expected to be back in the ring in the fall were capped at 100 regardless of how many finishers they bought.
Breast milk farmers were included in the list and capped at 40, which many considered too many.
Small dairy farmers were added, which caused an uproar. Nobody seemed happy.
In view of the ongoing criticism of the BEAM system, a billion euros have been waiting in the Brexit adjustment reserve for over a year.
Not a single solid proposal has been put forward by farming organizations to access finance for Irish beef farmers who will be impacted by the longer-term consequences of Brexit.
The Beef Taskforce was also unable to come up with a proposal.
Other sectors, including meat processors, have already made suggestions as to what farmer representatives should have done for cattle breeders.
Why didn’t they submit a proposal to the government? Are they waiting for the Ministry to first propose a plan and then criticize it?
It is worrying that some farmers believe that there will be another BEAM system in the future and that next time there will be no general terms and conditions.
There will always be conditions as funds spent by the EU Commission are closely monitored by other EU countries and EU auditors.
The ministry has a legal obligation to return to Brussels any funds that do not meet the conditions of the program.
Given the magnitude of the challenges Irish farmers face, wasting time and goodwill in the Commission in continuing to criticize BEAM is a huge mistake and serves only as a distraction from dealing with these challenges.
Angus Woods is a drywall builder in Co Wicklow
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/angus-woods-stop-slagging-off-beam-there-will-never-be-an-eu-scheme-with-no-terms-and-conditions-41406010.html Angus Woods: Stop slagging BEAM – there will never be an EU system without strings attached