Senior officials within DAERA have defended the new headage payment for beef cattle, after concerns were raised about its effect on the prices paid by NI meat factories.

At Stormont last Thursday, DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen questioned if abattoirs would cut beef prices knowing that finishers are getting payments from the Beef Carbon Reduction Scheme (BCRS).

In response, Norman Fulton from DAERA said the new BCRS only applies in NI, so it differs from the Europe-wide headage payment that was available prior to 2005.

“Our product is being sold primarily into Britain, therefore that market should drive our returns and it should not be influenced by the BCRS,” he said.

Fulton acknowledged that the gap in beef price between NI and Britain has widened in recent weeks, although he pointed out that the NI-Britain price difference “moves all the time”.

“I don’t think you can look at short term movements in the market and draw conclusions from it,” he maintained.

“We have an evaluation and review process, so we will continually monitor that,” added Rosemary Agnew from DAERA.

Payments under the BCRS are being phased in gradually, with £60/head available during March and the final payment rate of £75/head will apply from April onwards.

All NI-born prime cattle that are slaughtered under 30 months of age are eligible for the BCRS in 2024. The age criteria will drop each year to reach 26 months in year four (2027).

Native breeds

At Stormont’s agriculture committee last week, DAERA also addressed concerns that farmers who finish native breed cattle will not be able to meet the slaughter age criteria under BCRS.

Rosemary Agnew said DAERA officials have analysed all available data on the slaughter age of NI cattle, to see if there are trends across different breeds.

“We firmly believe that age of slaughter is strongly influenced by management decisions and doesn’t confer any specific disadvantage on any particular breed or system of production,” she said.

“It is a voluntary scheme and there is no penalty for non-participation,” Agnew added.