The latest draft proposals for the future of the Irish suckler herd make for sober reading.
A merging of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) along the Beef Environmental and Efficiency programme (BEEP) was seen as a positive move, with vital supports being directed to the suckler cow farmer.
However, like the 5% stock reduction requirement in BEAM, there always seems to be a sting in the tail with sucklers.
The Irish Farmers Journal has received confirmation from the Department of Agriculture that a cap will be applied to suckler cow numbers as part of the programme.
Essentially, it’s a quota on suckler cows. If you join the scheme, you can’t go up in numbers for the next five years.
The Irish Government has been extremely intelligent in its quest to cap suckler cow numbers. Financially, suckler farmers have no choice but to apply for this financial support.
Suckling is an extremely low-margin business which needs supports to survive, so they will have no choice but to apply for the new programme.
In doing so, they will be entering into a contract that will curtail them from growing their business in the next few years and essentially apply a stranglehold on the farm to ensure that suckler cow numbers decline.
They have taken the crude, easy option to impose a cap on suckler cow numbers with no creative capacity
They have taken the crude, easy option to impose a cap on suckler cow numbers with no creative capacity like the one that existed with Agriculture house.
As a result, they have angered farmers, rather than bringing them on a journey where the objective could have been achieved by working with them.
How could you encourage a young person into this industry? When the people at the top don’t want suckler cows, how they can expect the next generation to?
It’s never good to create division among sectors, but that’s exactly what the Department of Agriculture will do with the current proposals.
A support programme for sheep farmers is also on the table, with no requirement for a cap on ewe numbers on sheep farms.
A dairy support programme will also be introduced, providing support for the use of sexed semen and genotyping of calves, but there’s no mention of capping dairy cow numbers.
I have no problem with either industry, but surely fairness and equity in any cuts to a sector should be applied across all sectors. Why single out suckler farmers?
It beggars belief as to why suckler cows are being singled out for culling. The vast majority of suckler cows are located in the west of Ireland. Many of them are farmed on a part-time basis at a low stocking rate with a low level of nitrogen usage.
Politically, you would have to wonder why the Government would go down this route and alienate thousands of suckler farmers
Many of these farms are farmed on an extensive basis with an abundance of hedgerows and habitats located on the farm delivering for biodiversity and rural communities.
All of this coupled with the fact that the suckler herd is contracting and has been reducing in numbers over the last few years.
The Department of Agriculture will argue that the programme will be voluntary, but the reality is that there are 550,000 of the country’s suckler cows participating in BDGP and over 650,000 suckler cows in the BEEP programme. That equates to 70% of the national herd.
Politically, you would have to wonder why the Government would go down this route and alienate thousands of suckler farmers from growing their business in the next few years. The capping issue has already upset a lot of suckler farmers up and down the country.
Farm organisations should hang their heads in shame at this one. If they were involved in the design of the scheme, how did they let this one get through and if they didn’t know anything about the capping element, you would have to ask the question why.
There was a day when farm organisations would be front and centre in the design of any programme or support scheme for farmers.
All farm organisations were briefed by the Department on the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme at a CAP post-2020 consultative committee meeting on 20 May 2021.
It beggars belief how the capping issue wasn’t discussed at this meeting. A further meeting with farm organisations on the CAP strategic plan and the proposed schemes took place last Friday 30 July.
Suckler farmers will be up in arms about being singled out as the fall guys and need to ask questions about who is representing them and whether they have their best interests at heart.