I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, to the House to discuss the issue of the calf investment scheme. Last January, a calf investment scheme was announced, initially for €1.5 million. It was expanded to €4 million. Some 2,500 farmers have applied for the scheme. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Minister's detailed report because I want to know how many farmers received a payment under the scheme. It is a worthy scheme. It gave the opportunity for on-farm investment to farmers when it came to calf rearing. This has been a deficit in the system over the past few years. We have seen a major expansion in dairy and beef herds, particularly on the dairy side. A total of 1.5 million dairy cows will calve in January, February and March and investment in calf-rearing equipment on those farms will be welcomed.
The one drawback of the scheme, which I have mentioned, is that it was announced on 7 January this year. For a three-week period between 7 January and 28 January, farmers had an opportunity to apply for this scheme at the start of the calving season. It was illogical in that sense. It is akin to announcing the Christmas bonus on St. Stephen's Day. If we are to have a new calf-rearing scheme, it needs to be announced in the next few days. Announcing it in January is too late for the industry. The preparatory work that goes into spring calving has begun. Sheds are being cleaned out and washed and equipment is being readied. From 7 January, 1.5 million dairy cows will calve, particularly in my part of the world. That preparation is in full swing at the moment. I hope we have a new scheme and that it is announced shortly in order that dairy farmers who need this equipment will have the opportunity to apply in a timely manner. That has to be in the month of December, allowing an opportunity to have the equipment in place for when the calving season starts in full.
This was a new scheme. It is important to acknowledge it was the first of this nature. Because it was a new scheme, we had to learn from the pitfalls. There were positive aspects but the opportunity is there for a new scheme. However, it has to be rolled out in December to give farmers the opportunity to apply and get the equipment in place so when they have the busy spring period, which is only eight weeks away, they can have the equipment to work through the calf rearing, which has been an important part of the animal welfare issues we have been trying to work through in the past few years.
Covid is another issue. There has been a reduction in labour in farms. This scheme allows for a major reduction in labour. The labour required in calf rearing is immense. By investing in this equipment, labour is reduced. Labour is not there at the moment anyway, but it reduces the opportunity for being caught offside regarding the availability of labour.
I welcome the Minister's report and look forward to responding to him. Will we get a copy of the written statement?