A concern raised on a number of occasions in recent months is that the slaughter age targets within the new beef carbon reduction scheme (BCRS) will mean farmers end up feeding more concentrate to get cattle finished on time.

In 2024, the age limit is 30 months, falling to 28, 27 and 26 months over the next three years.

DAERA’s own analysis, which is based on 2020 slaughter data, suggests that over 40% of the current prime kill might not meet the 26-month age limit, so there is no doubt management changes will be required on farm.

But if the answer is to feed more concentrate, then the scheme will inadvertently be adding cost on to farms and putting more pressure on our environment. It will have failed.

At the same time, there really is no excuse for holding cattle up to 30 months of age and beyond, and no reason why cattle can’t be killed at around 24 months off a diet predominantly of grazed grass and good quality forage.

That said, there are those farmers operating in low-input systems, utilising traditional breeds in conservation-type grazing, who might struggle to meet the targets set in the BCRS. But even if some of their cattle miss out, these farms are likely to fare quite well as we transition towards more agri-environment-type payments.

If any group of farmers has a right to complain about the BCRS it is those who don’t keep any cattle at all.

Remember the BCRS is being funded by taking around 8.5% off all payments in 2024, while in 2025 the deduction increases to 17% once a new suckler scheme comes online.

For the likes of sheep farmers and those growing arable crops, they will see their incomes hit, with no prospect of being able to get any of that money back via either scheme. They won’t have much sympathy for a cattle farmer who has a few slow-growing animals missing out on £75/head.

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