The age profile of the country’s suckler farmers is one of a number of barriers preventing them from joining the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP), as they are uncertain of what the next five years has in store for them, advisers have warned.

One adviser in the west said he was worried about the age profile of farmers entering SCEP and the criteria that would have to be met. “The average age of my suckler farmers is 70. I will definitely have problems with farmers meeting criteria, the targets are overly ambitious and in terms of the star ratings, this is a big issue.”

There is more “flexibility in the scheme to reduce their herd”, Teagasc adviser Tom Coll said, adding that older farmers are questioning if they will still be in sucklers in five years’ time.

Noel Feeney, adviser and president of the Agricultural Consultants Association, is also worried that some of his older farmers will not join the scheme, as elderly farmers are “not interested”, he said.

He said they are also “not enthusiastic about joining the scheme due to the Bord Bia and star ratings”. The requirement to be Bord Bia quality-assured has been mentioned as a big worry for farmers, other advisers have reported. Paul Belton, of Midland Agri Consultants, said “Bord Bia is frightening to the elderly farmers because of all paperwork involved”.

Advisers have said that the euro star ratings for the scheme are another huge concern for farmers. There is a “lack of understanding” of how the stars work and what requirements need to be filled, Cavan consultant Oliver Crowe said.

Another adviser from the west said that “at the moment we have five withdrawal applications and I see a lot of people withdrawing from it. In general, the SCEP application process is hugely time consuming and this is frustrating at a time when we have so many deadlines coming at once.” Almost 11,000 farmers have applied to the scheme to date.