The Department of Agriculture must review the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) in its entirety, according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).
ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said the conditionality attached to BEAM monies was so flawed that the Department of Agriculture must revisit every aspect of the scheme.
“BEAM stands for Beef Exceptional Aid Measure. As the full title indicates, it was exceptional aid, which was secured to help beef farmers who had suffered horrendous losses during the winter of 2018 and going into 2019.
“It should have been distributed quickly and painlessly to those who needed it most. Instead, what we got is a scheme that will see perhaps over €19m in penalties, or 25% of the money that was originally applied for,” he said.
Graham said that due to the difficulties in meeting the conditionality targets set in BEAM, around 10,500 farmers deferred the period in which they needed to reduce the amount of bovine livestock manure nitrogen produced by 5%.
“Those farmers are now approaching their 31 December 2021 deadline for achieving this. However, figures from the Department of Agriculture indicate that 8,300 of these farmers are set to miss the target.
“This means that these 8,300 farmers face having to repay some or all of this exceptional aid in the new year,” he said.
He added that farmers accept that conditionality is part and parcel of most schemes, in that you must meet certain requirements to get paid.
“That is fair enough, but aid money given to farmers in response to a crisis should never have been weighed down with conditionality that that was so cumbersome and difficult to achieve – mainly down to delays in getting accurate figures from the Department.
“It must also be remembered that BEAM was looked for and secured in 2019, but the timeframe to meet the targets coincided with the arrival of a global pandemic.
“Lockdowns, restrictions and mart closures all had an impact on the day-to-day functioning of every farming enterprise. It also seriously impacted farmers’ ability to meet the BEAM requirements,” he said.
He said that it was “unconscionable” that the Department will seek to recoup approximately €14.5m from “hard pressed” beef farmers come the spring.
“This is on top of €5.2m already recouped from farmers who did not meet the original targets for the period ending 30 June 2021 and who did not defer.
“So, we are looking at a situation where a scheme which was originally meant to deliver exceptional aid of €100m may actually end up delivering barely more than half the original target.
"By any key performance indicator, this is a disastrous outcome when the original objective was to deliver €100m in badly needed aid to beef farmers,” he said.