I thank the Deputy. The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socioeconomic development of rural areas in particular. Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on the sector, given its unique exposure to the UK market, which accounted for 38%, or €5.2 billion of agrifood exports last year.
There are ongoing discussions with the Commission regarding the difficulties Ireland would face in the event of a no-deal Brexit and the assistance that might be required for its agriculture, food and fishery sectors. Avoiding a no-deal Brexit continues to be the Government’s overriding objective. I have held a number of discussions with the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Phil Hogan, regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the sector. I have stressed the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impact on agrifood and fisheries, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the single CMO, regulation of the CAP, as well as increased flexibility under state aid regulations.
It is also important to acknowledge, however, that the past few months have been difficult for beef farmers, in particular, following a difficult year in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance. In the light of the ongoing depressed market prices, in discussions with the Commissioner, Mr. Hogan, and my EU counterparts, I have said I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures under the CMO regulation, to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market, is required. I made an intervention to this effect at the April meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, which my officials have been following up with the Commission.
I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland's beef sector. The existing range of supports available to beef farmers under the rural development programme, 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. The beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, is currently the main support specifically targeted for the suckler sector and provides beef farmers with some €300 million in funding over the current RDP period. Furthermore, there is the beef environmental efficiency pilot, a €20 million pilot project for 2019.
My Department has rolled out a range of schemes as part of the €4 billion rural development programme. In addition to the BDGP, other supports available for suckler farmers under Pillar 2 of the CAP include the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme and knowledge transfer groups. Suckler farmers also benefit from the basic payment scheme and greening payments under Pillar 1. According to the national farm survey, suckler farmers receive support equivalent to approximately €500 per suckler cow on average. My Department is examining all appropriate measures to support the various agrifood sectors, including the suckler sector, in preparation for the next iteration of the CAP, and through the next agrifood strategy to 2030. Such measures 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.