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.