Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 1 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
TB Eradication Programme: Discussion
Mr. Joe Healy:
It is clearly recognised and long established that farmers' support for and participation in the disease eradication and control programmes are vital to the success of the programme. A critical component in achieving and maintaining this support is the provision of fair and appropriate support measures to the farmers most impacted by the programme requirements. The current TB programme fails to recognise the importance of fair levels of compensation and the investment and compliance of farmers with the programme who, through no fault of their own, experience a TB episode.
Farmers who have taken all reasonable precautions to protect their animals from TB must be fully compensated for all costs and losses associated with the TB programme. In this regard, changes to the TB compensation schemes are required to ensure that the cost burden imposed on farmers is fairly and appropriately addressed, and the full investment of farmers to the TB eradication programme, both directly and indirectly, is recognised in the programme.
Irish farmers contribute €35 million annually directly to the TB eradication programme through annual herd test costs and disease levies. In addition, the labour cost associated with herd testing for farmers and the income loss from the removal of animals must also be recognised as a farmer contribution. This contribution is credited to the farmer in the TB programmes implemented in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales and is the only farmer contribution to these programmes.
In return for the additional €35 million contribution made by Irish farmers towards the programme, which is not provided by farmers in the countries I mentioned, Irish farmers receive approximately €3.5 million in supplementary schemes. This leaves a surplus of €31.5 million in farmer contributions which must be used to address the issues I will outline.
There are four compensation support schemes available under the TB eradication programme: the live valuation scheme, the income supplement scheme, the depopulation grant scheme, and the hardship grant scheme. All four schemes are fundamental components of the TB eradication programme in seeking to compensate farmers for the enormous burden of TB outbreaks. All four schemes have significant shortcomings, however, that must be addressed in the TB programme.
To provide all farmers who experience a TB breakdown with the opportunity to have their animals assessed and valued independently, a number of changes to the current live valuation scheme are required.
The IFA agreed an independent live valuation scheme with the Government in the early 2000s to provide all farmers with the opportunity to have their animals assessed independently to determine the price they would be expected to attain if offered for sale on the open market. Through the subsequent inclusion of administrative controls by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine such as penalty points for valuers, bureaucratic non-market reflective guidelines for categorisation of animals and the compilation of guideline prices by departmental personnel from inappropriate data sets, the independence of the scheme has been eroded by the Department.
In order to re-establish the independence of the scheme, the IFA is calling for the independent valuers to be allowed to independently value the animals in the scheme without interference from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The summary of market prices must be compiled from an agreed appropriate data set independently of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The income supplement scheme and depopulation grant scheme must be amended to better reflect the actual income loss incurred by farms experiencing TB breakdowns where animals are removed and cannot be replaced until the restriction is lifted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. These losses are particularly acute on dairy farms where cows are in full production and on suckler farms where cows rearing calves are removed. The IFA has carried out a detailed analysis of the impact of these events on income, based on information from the Teagasc national farm survey over a three-year period from 2015 to 2017. The respective losses over a 12-month period are €1,320 for dairy cows, €672 for suckler cows and €432 for other animals.
The current payments in these schemes are not reflective of the actual losses incurred by farmers, do not pay for all animals removed and only pay from the date the animals leave the farm.
The IFA proposes that the income supplement and depopulation grant scheme rates have to reflect the full extent of income loss experienced by farmers. These rates must apply from the date animals are identified as TB reactors on the farm, must be paid on all animals removed from the farm and must be paid for the entire period of restriction under both schemes.
The current hardship grant scheme provides for a payment of €38 per month for each suckler cow and €25 per month for each dairy cow or other bovine animal retained on the farm, subject to a maximum payment of €250 per month. Payments are for a maximum of four months and are only available within the period from 1 November to 30 April. Farmers with an off-farm income are not eligible for these payments. The IFA proposes amending the hardship grant scheme to reflect the full extent of costs incurred by farmers due to the forced maintenance of additional animals.
Dairy farmers must be supported in dealing with the restriction on the sale of newborn dairy calves through the provision of financial assistance with rearing the calves or the grant-aided removal of the calves from the farm under the hardship grant scheme. The TB forum has failed farmers by refusing to recognise and deal with the impact of the TB programme on farmers and their families. This refusal by the Minister and his Department is jeopardising the ongoing support of farmers for the TB programme, hindering progress on important enhancements to the programme and ultimately delaying eradication of the disease. Clearly, protecting the 97% of herds that are free from TB each year must be the priority. However, attempting to achieve this by ignoring and further compounding the impact on the 3% of farmers who, through no fault of their own, experience TB breakdowns is a flawed and unacceptable policy position.
I will now hand over to the IFA's animal health chairman, Mr. Pat Farrell, who is a suckler farmer himself, to outline the IFA's proposals for additional policy measures and reaction to key points in the TB forum interim report.