Applicants to the new Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP) will have to join Bord Bia’s Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS), the Department of Agriculture has insisted.

Senior Department officials said the necessity to join SBLAS will not be dropped, although they conceded that some leeway may be given with regard to the timing of farmers joining the Bord Bia scheme.

The Department’s David Buckley told farmers at this week’s CAP Information Series meeting in Ballina, hosted by the Irish Farmers Journal, that the SCEP was an element of the overall CAP programme lodged with the European Commission and it therefore could not be altered. “It [SBLAS] is an element within the programme. So we can’t dump it and still have a SCEP programme,” Buckley stated.

However, the Department official conceded that some leeway will be shown to farmers experiencing delays in being approved by Bord Bia for SBLAS. “We may well have to show some flexibility at the application stage but within a matter of months people are going to have to be in it [SBLAS],” Buckley said.

While up to 20,000 suckler farmers have been targeted for SCEP membership, farmers warned from the floor that the exodus from the suckler sector was gathering pace, with huge numbers of cull cows in western marts this winter.

In other news from the meeting, Fran Morrin of the Department’s CAP entitlements division said approval letters would be issued in the coming month to 4,100 farmers who have joined the new organic programme. On the issue of the “forgotten farmers”, Morrin told the meeting that there was still no definite announcement, but he said the issue was still under discussion and an “outcome was close”.