I want to raise the issue of the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme – the new suckler cow scheme, which is designed to replace Beef Data Genomics Programme (BDGP) and the Beef Environment Efficiency Programme Sucklers (BEEP-S).

The main area of concern is the mention of participants not being able to increase their number of suckler cows during the course of the programme.

This is in effect a cap on suckler farmers providing an income for their family and becoming more efficient, making more use of grassland and improving the performance of their herd.

No other sector, either within or outside the agricultural sector has a similar cap imposed on their business and this would in effect become a cap on the suckler herd.

There is a natural reduction in the suckler herd occurring each year and any further reduction would put the entire rural economy at risk particularly in the western and north western counties.

There are numerous cuts proposed in the consultative document to suckler and beef farmers’ income through eco schemes, convergence and environmental schemes and therefore further restrictions on the ability of a farmer to maximise their income from the market is very worrying.

In particular, I am thinking of a new generation of farmers who wish to take over from the previous generation and maximise the income possible from the farm. Where the previous operator may have been winding down the business, the new generation may wish to increase output and the income available to provide for their family.

In order for the Department of Agriculture to get maximum participation from suckler farmers and suckler cow numbers into the scheme, and the resultant benefits that the Department envisages in terms of efficiency and environmental benefits, this condition enforcing a cap on suckler cow numbers must be dropped.

Farmers are not willing to sign up to a scheme that enforces a cap on their business for the next five years, which may well end up capping their number of cows and business for many years to come.

I would be grateful if you could help express the frustrations of farmers that this condition was included without the prior knowledge or consultation with farmers.

I cannot stress enough how much this condition has annoyed farmers who were hoping for genuine engagement with the Department around the design of schemes and to maximise participation for the benefit of all stakeholders.