DEAR SIR: It appears that suckler farmers are fair game for everyone. We have seen the herd drop from 1.15m to 0.85m since 2012, while the dairy herd has increased from less than 1.1m to approximately 1.5m and is rising rapidly. The reason for the drop in the suckler herd has been mainly driven by CAP reform, which has consistently reduced supports and market margins that have been constantly under pressure due to an increasing dairy herd.
It is disheartening to hear the constant negativity towards suckler farming from people like John Fitzgerald and Gerry Boyle who, in my view, have an agenda to decimate the suckler herd and to allow the dairy herd to increase.
Gerry Boyle’s recent comments, for which he apologised, while embarrassing, are representing the views of very influential people who hope to drive policy in Government. The minister’s recent proposals for CAP reform will add significantly to the pressure on suckler farmers’ incomes.
In 2000, pre-decoupling, a suckler farmer could earn €477/ha at a stocking rate of 1.8 or €430/ha at a stocking rate of 1.4.
With the policy of convergence this will be driven down to approximately €240/ha, which is an almost 50% cut from that period. The tillage sector will move from approximately €270/ha to €240 – a drop of €30/ha. In the case of milk production, support will go from €0 to €240, which is where the money is being targeted.
It is important that the weakest sector must be addressed in this round of CAP reform and one of the tools available to the minister is a coupled payment which is being used by a lot of other member states that have suckler cows ie, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Austria and Germany.
This has the capacity to deliver €140 per cow on all suckler cows in the country and this, with the supports announced last week by the minister, would go in some way to rebalance the cuts the sector has taken in recent CAP reform.
It is heartbreaking to see herds being sold out week after week by farmers who think they have failed. They have not failed. It is the policymakers and the farm organisations that have failed them.
It is now time to cap the national herd and this can only be done with a separate quota for dairy farmers and suckler farmers. We cannot allow one group of farmers to be sacrificed for another. The emissions problem in Irish agriculture is clearly coming from the dairy herd and it is the dairy sector that must deal with it.
It is time for Fine Gael to rethink their policy of trying to squeeze out suckler farmers to make room for dairy farmers. Martin Heydon TD said last week that we have a stable herd and we should be able to retain this into the future.
The minister is not looking at the full picture as we must look at the two herds separately and not allow one to get rid of the other. Having spoken to Michael Creed, TD, recently, he said he could not support a coupled payment as the “suckler herd has not dropped enough”. It is time to put figures on what is needed in both herds and stop the double speaks.
We must always remember that suckler farmers are predominately in the marginal land with fragmented farms, and farming this land with suckler cows is producing an excellent raw material for our beef industry as well as sequestering carbon in the process.
Suckler farmers are people who make a great contribution to the economy and the environment and this has to be always considered when making policy changes.
These are the real family farms, which is the fundamental basis of EU CAP supports and cannot be sacrificed to allow to make room for factory dairy farms of 300-plus dairy cows.
We should also be looking at the Just Transition Fund to put a policy in place to allow suckler farmers or dairy farmers to exit the business with dignity.