I do not accept the Deputy’s contention that I have targeted low income drystock farmers in budget 2013. The reality is that in a situation where the schemes concerned were approaching the end of their projected periods of operation and in a challenging budgetary environment, I secured continued significant additional support targeted at these sectors, which will build on the progress achieved in the earlier schemes.
The suckler cow welfare scheme was intended to be a five year scheme for beef animals born in herds owned by eligible participants during the period, which commenced on 1 January 2008 and ended on 31 December 2012, and delivered in excess of €150 million to those participating. I have made funding of €10 million available in 2013 to continue to make aid payments on calves born in the latter half of 2012 to ensure residual obligations under the scheme are paid in full. In addition, I have allocated another €10 million in 2013, financed from unspent single farm payment funds, for a new support programme for suckler beef farmers to participate in a new beef data programme. This programme will assist farmers in improving the genetic quality of Irish cattle and maintain the data flow into the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation to build further knowledge and more rapid progress in breeding and, ultimately, profitability for farmers.
By way of further support to the beef sector, I announced that the beef technology adoption programme, or beef discussion groups, would be retained in 2013. This programme is built on the lessons of the dairy efficiency programme and provides a €5 million financial stimulus to encourage, through the medium of professionally facilitated discussion groups and a task-oriented approach, the adoption of a more focused commercial approach to beef farming.
In total, therefore, I have made provision for the payment of aid amounting to €25 million to the beef sector in 2013 which speaks for itself in terms of the Government’s commitment to the sector. I remind the Deputy that last year we only spent €27 million.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Turning to the grassland sheep scheme, this scheme, as originally implemented, was to run for three years, 2010, 2011 and 2012, with an annual budget of €18 million. However, as the Deputy will be aware, I was in a position to secure funding which allowed the scheme to continue for a fourth year, notwithstanding the continued adverse budgetary conditions, albeit with adjusted funding of €14 million.
Direct aid payments are important, but it is time for the sheep sector to adapt and develop its enterprises in line with other sectors. In that regard, I have decided to make funding of €3 million available for a new sheep technology adoption programme, which concept has proved very successful in the dairy and beef sectors, with a maximum payment of €1,000 per participant. It is important that sheep farmers take action to increase and maximise their income from their enterprises. This can be achieved by improving breeding, animal health-welfare and grazing regimes. The dairy sector has demonstrated that the discussion group concept can achieve such improvements.
Notwithstanding the financial adjustment made to the overall funding for the grassland sheep scheme, hill sheep farmers who join a sheep discussion group will find that the aid they will receive in 2013 will increase by almost €590.