Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has said that he will be unable to bring clarity to the proposed dairy cow reduction scheme by the end of the year.

Speaking before the Oireachtas environment committee, Minister McConalogue was unable to give TDs and senators the timeframe for when a decision will be made on whether or not to proceed with the scheme.

Minister McConalogue and Department of Agriculture officials have been considering the idea for more than a year.

It only took the Minister three months to completely rule out the idea of going ahead with a voluntary reduction scheme for suckler cows.

The committee had previously been told that if a scheme were to be brought forward, the details would be published by September 2023 and that 2022 would be the reference year on which to base farmers' payments.

Numbers crunched

Department officials have already crunched the numbers on the expected impact of any cow reduction scheme, but the Minister suggested that challenges remain with the proposals expected hit to production, as well as with a claimed lack of support for the idea among farmers.

“It is still under consideration, it is one of the steps that remain to be considered fully,” Minister McConalogue replied to a question on the matter from the Social Democrats’ Jennifer Whitmore TD on Thursday.

“There has been models looked at as to how such a scheme could work where we go ahead and step it out.

“I have been engaging with stakeholders throughout the ag sector as to how a reduction scheme might play.

“There is very considerable opposition amongst farmers and those throughout the food supply chain in relation to introducing such a scheme, I think,” he said.

The Minister refused to be drawn on the likelihood of a scheme being rolled out, but he did not rule the option out.

“It won’t be published this quarter. I continue to engage with stakeholders, but there is no certainty around, pending that further engagement, around timelines.

“The challenge around this particular one is that it could potentially impact upon food production which has a detrimental output.

“I don’t want to see our capacity to produce food diminish because anywhere that can produce food is going to need to produce food in the years ahead.”

Minister McConalogue cited research conducted on methane-reducing feed additives and lower-methane cattle genetics as being emissions reduction options that are being supported by his Department.

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