Farmers in the west of Ireland, who have to supplement their farm income with an off-farm job, must be able to access the Hardship Grant in the event that their herd is restricted as a result of TB.
I recently raised this issue with Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
The main concerns that I raised with Minister Creed were the prospect of farmers having to conduct a second herd test for TB annually, the length of time that farmers have to wait for a negative result following the observation of lesions in a factory and the fact that so many farmers are excluded from the Hardship Grant because they have off-farm income.
In recent weeks, farmers throughout the country have raised a number of issues with me in relation to the current TB regime. They were particularly worried that farmers would have to foot the cost of a second TB test annually.
A current EU directive states that every herd in the country must be tested at least once annually. The current directive is due to be replaced in 2021 and the current draft replacement text requires a 30-day pre/post movement test unless the
herd and animal have been tested in the last six months.
The new rule could mean that farmers wishing to sell animals would have to either do so within six months of the annual herd test or the buyer or seller would have to have a pre or post movement test carried out. This is a Delegated Act and there is no mechanism for Ireland to block it.
The farmers that I have spoken to on this issue have raised the cost of the second test and who will bear the cost. This is a very live issue in rural areas because farmers are already facing huge financial difficulties with low returns on produce,
uncertain market conditions with Brexit looming and ever-increasing costs.
Another very serious issue in relation to the TB regime is the fact that so many farmers are excluded from the Hardship Grant because they have off-farm income.
Off-farm income is a necessity on many farms across the country and if these farms are restricted from selling cattle due to TB regulations, they need assistance in retaining and feeding the animals during the prolonged periods of restriction.
The current eligibility period is from November 1 to April 30
and is aimed at helping with winter feeding costs.
The off-farm income taken into account does not include government schemes or Department of Social
Protection/RSS payments or the income of other family members.
I strongly believe that low-income farmers, whose income includes an element of off-farm income, should be eligible for the Hardship Grant.
Farms with off-farm income are often, by definition, the smallest farms in the poorer areas of the country. Without off-farm income these farms could not function.
During a TB breakdown on these farms, animals still have to be fed and cared for and these farmers need to be catered for in terms of the Hardship Grant.
I will continue to raise these issues with the Minister for Agriculture because they are having a very serious impact on farmers across the region.