A voluntary cow reduction scheme could be open to dairy farmers as soon as 2024, according to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.

Minister McConalogue suggested that the details of a dairy cow reduction scheme will be clarified sometime between July and September of this year in comments he made to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment on Thursday.

The reference year for a cow scrappage scheme is set to be 2022, to ensure that farmers cannot inflate numbers in the short-term to benefit from any reduction scheme that opens.

2022 had been mentioned previously as a reference year.

Minister McConalogue was asked about the possibility of a dairying exit scheme opening by Green Party Senator Pauline O'Reilly.

Senator O'Reilly questioned the minister on what options are open to dairy farmers who were seeking to diversify away from dairying.

The senator said that "some but not all dairy farmers" would be open to exiting dairy through a support scheme to engage in other types of farming.

“I am now going to engage with stakeholders as to how we step that out,” the minister said.

“So, by the third quarter of this year, Senator, we will have that clarified and then next year we expect will be the follow through on that,” he responded.

When Senator O'Reilly asked whether the scheme would be “up and running” in 2024, Minister McConalogue said: “That would be my intention pending the engagement of stakeholders in the meantime and working together with them.”

Food Vision Dairy Group

It was recommended that such a scheme be opened by the Department of Agriculture in the Food Vision Dairy Group’s final report published last year.

However, the recommendation was made despite the reduction scheme failing to get the backing of any farmer representative group sitting in the sustainability group.

It was stated in the report that a reduction scheme would not lower emissions if farms not participating in the scheme increased cow numbers.

Minister McConalogue suggested in early January that an equivalent reduction scheme is not being considered for suckler cows, despite the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group also advising the measure be taken.

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