There has been a huge reaction to the news that the Department of Agriculture is planning to cap suckler cow numbers in the next round of CAP reforms.

The details emerged last week as part of one of the 'interventions' that the Department of Agriculture is proposing for supporting the suckler herd.

The programme essentially sees the merging of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) and the Beef Environmental and Efficiency Programme (BEEP).

The huge talking point so far has been the Department’s plan to cap suckler cow numbers for any herd that participates in the new scheme.

This would essentially mean no growth in suckler cow numbers in participants' herds for the duration of the contract which farmers would sign up to.

It’s an important scheme, with 70% of the country’s suckler cows participating in one or other of BDGP and BEEP, the programme’s predecessors.

Minister's comments

Last week, the CAP strategic plan document was published by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.

The wide-ranging document covers everything from front loading to eco schemes and goes in some way to explain what support models will look like in the next round of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The Minister praised the work of the CAP consultative committee last week.

Following presentation by his Department on Friday 30 July of the draft interventions to the CAP stakeholder consultative committee, the Minister said: “I wish to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of all stakeholders through the work of the CAP Consultative Committee to date."

The Minister went on to say: “The draft interventions have been developed based in no small measure on stakeholder input, including through extensive consideration of the situation in the sector by way of a formal SWOT analysis and needs assessment process.

"The proposed draft interventions are wide-ranging, and I believe will support farmers and rural communities to address the economic, environmental and social challenges that they face”

Huge importance

The work of the CAP consultative committee is of huge importance in guiding and challenging the Department of Agriculture as it designs the next round of support models for Irish farms.

The committee has met four times in 2019, seven times in 2020 and five times so far in 2021. The last meeting of the group took place at 2pm on Friday 30 July, just a few hours before the CAP strategic plan was published for consultation.

The Irish Farmers Journal understands that a presentation on the proposed interventions was circulated to members of the committee 40 minutes before the meeting started at 2pm.

This document also outlines that if a farmer reduces the suckler cow numbers present on the farm, this will be the new reference number of suckler cows that a farmer will be paid on for the rest of their contract in the scheme.


"The number of suckler cows eligible per herd will be based on an historical reference year which will provide a ceiling for payment, but there will be scope to reduce numbers without penalty.

"Where a participant reduces their suckler cow numbers, this lower number will become their new reference number and they will be paid on this lower number going forward through the contract. The reference number may only be revised downwards," according to the document.

So who sits on the committee?

The official membership of the committee as listed on the Department of Agriculture website is outlined in Table 1.

It’s a diverse committee with a number of different State organisations and farmer organisations present on the committee.

Some might question the membership of the committee and whether they represent the best interests of farmers.

For example, having one IFA representative representing 70,000 farmers sitting alongside a representative from Birdwatch Ireland would make you question the functionality of the committee.

A number of farm organisations are represented, with an equal amount of influence from environmental agencies.

Below is a list of the people who attended the committee meeting on 21 May 2021, where details of the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme were presented by the meat policy division representative from the Department of Agriculture.

This meeting was also attended by 31 Department of Agriculture staff from various divisions, some of whom made presentations to the group at the meeting.

Attendance list on 21 May 2021

  • Bleasdale, Andy: Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (NPWS).
  • Byrne, Colin: Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
  • Carter, Clive: Irish Grain Growers Association.
  • Claffey, James: Irish Rural Network.
  • Curran, Daniel: Department of Rural and Community Development.
  • Deakin, Jenny: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Duffy, Thomas: Macra na Feirme.
  • Duggan, Oonagh: Environmental Pillar/Bird Watch Ireland.
  • Farrell, Eamonn: ICOS - Irish Cooperative Organisation Society.
  • Fitzsimons, Paula: ACORNS.
  • Flynn, David: Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
  • Griffin, Denis: Irish Farmers Association (IFA).
  • Hanrahan, Kevin: Teagasc.
  • Lumley, Ian: An Taisce.
  • Lynch, Donal: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
  • McCabe, Niall: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
  • O'Donnell, Colm: Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association.
  • O'Driscoll, Owen: Agricultural Consultants Association.
  • Ryan, Joe: Dairy Industry Ireland.
  • Smyth, Paul: Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association.
  • Stanley Smith: Charles Environmental Pillar.
  • Wallace, Michael: UCD.
  • Westbrook, Gillian: Irish Organic Association.