In the first instance I would like to set the record straight in that no decision was made to abolish the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme, which, in fact, is due to end on 31 December 2012. This Scheme was a five-year Scheme for beef animals born in herds owned by eligible participants during the period, which commenced on 1 January 2008 and ending on 31 December 2012. In that regard, I have made funding of €10 million available in 2013 to continue to make aid payments on calves born in 2012. The primary objectives of the Scheme are summarised as follows:
- Enhance welfare standards for animals produced from the suckler cow herd.
- Improve husbandry standards at weaning time leading to reduced illness and mortality and enhanced health of the National herd.
- Provide education and knowledge building among farmers on best practice in suckler herd health and welfare.
- Improve the genetic quality of the national suckler herd.
- Improve the competitiveness of the Irish beef industry and the quality of the beef produced.
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.
In addition, I have allocated €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 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.
In total, I have made provision for the payment of aid amounting to €25 million to the beef sector in 2013. I announced the establishment of a Beef Technology Adoption Programme in 2012, which will be retained in 2013. This Programme is built on the lessons of the Dairy Efficiency Programme and provided 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 focussed commercial approach to beef farming.
In relation to the information sought by the Deputy, I would like to clarify that farmers, who are participating in the Suckler Cow Welfare, are not required to submit an application under the Scheme on an annual basis. The vast majority of farmers submitted an application at the commencement of the Scheme in 2008. It was only necessary for new entrants to suckler production to submit an application form when they commenced participating in the Scheme since 2008. Furthermore, payment cannot be made on all eligible calves until the participant has registered all of the events, including birth, pre and post-weaning information, required under the Scheme. Payment will not become due on many calves until they are weaned in 2013 and only when all of the measures are registered by the participants. In addition, payment will not be made on 2012 weaned calves where the measures have yet to be registered by the participant. However, I have arranged for the data in the format sought to be made available to the Deputy for calves born in 2011.