Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Questions (52)

Eamon Scanlon


52. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to reduce the suckler cow herd to facilitate the expansion of the dairy herd; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28218/19]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

The Minister has answered most of the questions I had. I represent the north west, where 95% of the farming is suckler cow farming. There is serious concern that the suckler farmer will lose out at the expense of the dairy industry. In my area dairy farming is impossible because the farms are so scattered with small fields. What are the Minister's views on that?

I have no plans to reduce the suckler cow herd to facilitate the expansion of the dairy sector. Decisions to expand or reduce herd sizes in any sector are matters for individual farmers, determined by their own best interests and, of course, subject to adherence to relevant environmental regulation.

My Department provides significant support for suckler farmers, through measures such as the beef data and genomics scheme, the beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme and support for beef producer organisations as well as GLAS, the basic payment scheme and investment supports which are also available to farmers in other sectors. Furthermore, under the current Common Agricultural Policy, my Department has facilitated a convergence of basic payments which, by 2020, will have resulted in €100 million having been moved from farmers on the highest payments per hectare to those on the lowest. Many suckler farmers have been beneficiaries of that process. In providing these very significant supports to suckler farmers, my objective has been to introduce measures that encourage farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve profitability and the environmental and economic efficiency of the farming system. I will continue to support suckler farmers and to be guided by those principles.

I have also succeeded in obtaining temporary EU aid for beef farmers to assist with market difficulties. This relevant Commission regulation provides €50 million in exceptional European Union aid to beef farmers in Ireland and allows national co-funding of up to 100%. The details of the scheme, which will be entirely voluntary, have yet to be finalised. However, I can confirm that these provisions are a market response and have nothing whatever to do with dairy expansion, nor could they require any permanent reduction or adjustment in Ireland’s beef herd.

That perception exists and we would not like that to happen. I welcome the exceptional aid for suckler farmers. Will that money be paid out in 2019? We are faced with Brexit and the upcoming Mercosur deal. With 270,000 tonnes of beef already come into Europe and a further 99,000 tonnes set to come in, it will distort the market. If we are serious about supporting small family farmers and keeping them living on and working the land, they will need considerable help. We need strong supports through the exceptional need fund and also through CAP in future if we are serious about keeping the small suckler cow farmer on the land.

I repeat my opening sentence. I have no plans to reduce the suckler cow herd to facilitate the expansion of the dairy sector. I appreciate the Deputy's assistance in allaying the perception to the contrary that may exist. No policy that the Department has introduced could sustain that perception. All the efforts we have made have been about trying to deliver supports. These include restoring €50 million to the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme, bringing funding for the scheme to €250 million; the beef environmental efficiency programme; and the current EU aid scheme that we will administer before the end of the year. In all of these endeavours, any funds we can get our hands on have been targeted at the beef sector. It is intended that the latter scheme will be paid in 2019.

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 49.
Question No. 54 replied to with Written Answers.