I am very conscious of the role played by the beef sector in sustaining the rural economy and rural communities across Ireland.
I am aware of the current challenges facing beef farmers, with a sustained period of low prices, following on from additional costs last year arising from the unprecedented weather events. However, as Minister, I cannot intervene directly in any commodity price; cattle prices are a matter for the processing industry and the farmers who supply it. Cattle prices are influenced by a variety of factors such as the level of consumer demand, production levels and exchange rate differences. Brexit also presents enormous challenges and ongoing uncertainty for the entire beef sector.
I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland’s beef sector. I am strongly of the view that the existing range of supports available to suckler farmers, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate for the continued development of the sector.
While beef farmers obviously benefit from the full range of Pillar I direct payments and Rural Development Programme schemes, the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) is currently the main support specifically targeted for the suckler sector. This scheme provides Irish beef farmers with some €300 million in funding over the current Rural Development Programme (RDP) period. It is an agri-environmental measure to improve the environmental sustainability of the national suckler herd by increasing genetic merit within the herd.
In addition, I recently launched the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP), a targeted support of €20 million for suckler farmers specifically aimed at further improving the economic and environmental efficiency of beef production. The pilot has been designed to be as straightforward as possible. Beef farmers will also be significant beneficiaries of the €23m in additional funding provided to the ANC scheme this year.
One of the unique strengths of the agri-food sector has been the shared vision for the sustainable development of the sector in Food Wise 2025. It is crucial that we all continue to work together. I have highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their inter-dependency, and to increase the strength of all links in the supply chain, including Beef Producer Organisations.
Officials in my Department are currently engaging extensively with stakeholders in relation to Beef Producer Organisations, which have the potential to help strengthen the position of the primary producer in the supply chain.