The Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme was a five-year Scheme which is ending on 31 December 2012.. Taking into account payments of €22 million approximately, which will be issued in respect of 2012 born calves, over the coming months, the Exchequer will have paid €158 million in total under this Scheme. This is a very substantial contribution to the very important beef sector. I am, therefore, pleased that a Value for Money Audit, which was undertaken in accordance with the Department of Finance Value for Money and Policy Review Initiative, established that the Scheme has largely achieved these objectives. The 34,000 participants, who continued in the Scheme over its five-year duration, are fully aware that following best practice in the breeding, animal health/welfare aspects and rearing of suckler calves leads to better prices and demand at weanling sale time.
It was important to build on progress made under the lifetime of the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme. Therefore, I have allocated €10 million in 2013, financed from unspent Single Farm Payment Funds for a new support programme for suckler farmers to participate in a new Beef Data Programme. When taken together with residual payments of €10 million under the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme, this will amount to €20 million in direct payments to suckler farmers in 2013. This programme will assist farmers in improving the genetic quality of Irish cattle and will maintain the data flow into ICBF in order to build further knowledge and more rapid progress in breeding and ultimately in profitability for farmers.
The objectives of the new measure are summarised as follows.
- An increase in the number of commercial suckler herds that are engaged in the submission of beef data for breeding purposes;
- An increase in the amount of data from commercial farms around the country on traits of high relevance to beef farmers (e.g. Sire, dam, calving ease, weanling quality, docility) that can be used in genetic evaluations;
- Substantially more accurate genetic evaluations for a wide range of traits. The lack of data recording hampers the production of Beef Genetic indexes with reliable figures (large volumes of data are needed to increase reliability/accuracy);
- An increase in the uptake of cattle breeding related information services;
- An increase in the use that commercial beef producers make of genetic evaluations;
- Improvement in Ireland’s capability to capitalise on Genomics technology in the beef herd. This technology has already enabled the acceleration of genetic gain in the dairy herd (worth an extra €30m per annum to the dairy sector). Without the scheme, this will not be possible on the beef side.
The exact details of this new measure are being finalised and my priority is to ensure that the funding is fully utilised within the suckler sector. My view is that the level of funding (€10 million) made available is more than sufficient to encourage suckler farmers to participate in this one measure given that the total amount of aid paid to date under the 2012 Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme on 2012 born calves is approximately €22 million.