There will probably be plenty of legitimate arguments made in the coming weeks as to why DAERA should or should not pursue a headage payment on suckler cows as set out in its consultation on future agricultural policy.
At the same time it is important to recognise that these are just proposals, and ultimately it will be for a DAERA minister to make final decisions.
However, the arguments set out by DAERA for the payment are valid, and no doubt there is significant scope to improve productivity and performance on many suckler farms.
Calving heifers at three years, and holding on to empty cows, simply makes no sense, either from a financial or carbon footprint point of view.
As things currently stand, by year four of the policy only those cows that calved as a heifer under 27 months, and have a calving interval under 370 days, will be eligible for the payment
At the same time, there are also changes required to make the proposals more practical on farms. As things currently stand, by year four of the policy only those cows that calved as a heifer under 27 months, and have a calving interval under 370 days, will be eligible for the payment.
So initially that would discount all first-calvers as they can’t meet the criteria for calving interval. That would probably equate to around 20% of the herd.
Secondly, a significant number of mature cows are also likely to be excluded. Take the example of a suckler farm doing a really good job on cow fertility, with an ideal overall calving index around 365 days. Looking down through the figures, around one-third of cows will be above the 370-day limit.
Bringing calving forward will push them into February and ultimately more problems with disease etc
If farmers were to have a herd with a calving interval mostly under 370 days, what you will actually do is bring forward the overall calving date every year.
Many farmers calve from mid-March onwards as that suits their ability to get cows and young calves outside. Bringing calving forward will push them into February and ultimately more problems with disease etc.
A maximum calving interval of 400 days for each individual cow is more realistic, should mean most cows are able to get the payment, and will still drive positive change in the sector.