My Department provided €20 million in Budget 2019 for a new pilot scheme for suckler farmers, specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of beef production. The Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) will target the weaning efficiency of suckler cows and calves - measuring the liveweight of the calf at weaning as a percentage of the cow's liveweight.
This is in addition to supports already available to the sector. According to National Farm Survey data, suckler farmers currently receive support equivalent to approximately €500 per suckler cow on average. The following outlines the supports for the suckler sector which are currently in place:
The Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) is currently the main support specifically targeted for the suckler sector, which provides Irish beef farmers with some €300 million in funding over the current Rural Development Programme (RDP) period. This scheme is an agri-environmental measure to improve the environmental sustainability of the national suckler herd by increasing genetic merit within the herd.
My Department has rolled out a range of schemes as part of the €4 billion Rural Development Programme (RDP), 2014 - 2020. In addition to the BDGP, other supports which are available for suckler and sheep farmers under Pillar II of the CAP include GLAS, ANCs and Knowledge Transfer Groups. Suckler farmers also benefit from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening payments under CAP Pillar I.
I acknowledge that the past few months have been difficult, most especially beef farmers, following a difficult year in 2018, and with a prolonged and exceptional period of market disturbance low prices since last autumn. Among other factors, the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit has had a negative effect.
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 the development of Beef Producer Organisations.
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 beef farmers under the RDP, 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. In that context, there is no capacity to introduce a €200 per cow suckler payment under the current RDP.
My Department is examining all appropriate measures to support the different agrifood sectors, including the suckler sector in preparation for the next iteration of the CAP. I will continue to argue for as strong a CAP budget as possible, post-2020. In particular, I am committed to ensuring that suckler farmers continue to receive strong support in the next CAP. My view is that such payments should support and encourage suckler farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve the profitability, and the economic and environmental efficiency, of their farming system. The Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot is a positive step in that direction.