Speaking after a frank meeting with the Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine, Charlie McConalogue, ICMSA President, Pat McCormack, said that since the SI was signed last March, the departmental communication with dairy farmers in relation to cow banding has been lamentable and writing to farmers in the next few weeks to tell them that they will have to reduce their cows numbers can only be described as the kind of inconsiderate and shabby treatment that seems reserved exclusively for farmers.

Mr McCormack said that farmers have invested in their business taking on long-term bank debt based with loan repayment schedules based on a certain number of cows. To be told now – two months into 2023 – that you will have to cut those cows numbers in 2023 and thus undermine your financial viability was as unworkable as it was unfair.

“ICMSA has previously called on the Minister to suspend banding for 2023 given both the lack of timely communication with farmers and the basic feasibility implications for dairy farm families. While it’s hugely disappointing that the Minister intends to push ahead with banding in 2023, he did confirm to ICMSA that farmers will be allowed to use their 2023 milk production on a ‘once-off’ basis to determine their band in this year.

“This will obviously be of use to farmers who may find themselves in Band 3 due to being slightly over the limit based on the three-year average or the 2022 figure. We had sought this change and it will benefit some farmers, but – to be clear – the fundamental issue here is that many family dairy farms are going to see their economic viability seriously undermined by cow banding and with land prices gone to unsustainable levels to buy or lease, the cow banding change is the single biggest threat to the future of many long-standing family farm units. That’s the simple truth and unfortunately the Minister seems oblivious to that fact,” said Mr McCormack.

Mr McCormack said that ICMSA and farmers fully accept the need to maintain and improve water quality. But could not understand or accept rules that may, or may not, improve water quality while absolutely for certain undermining farmers’ ability to earn a living.

“The sustainable and practical thing to do here is for the Department to announce that no farmers will be penalised in relation to cow banding in 2023. There will also have to be an impact assessment carried out on its social and economic implications with the policy revised to focus on improving our position on water quality while protecting the position of farm families. We have to keep on stressing that those two things: family farm viability and better water quality are not opposites, and we will continue to resist plans – like this Banding – that suggest that they are,” said Mr McCormack.