The Beef Sector is an important element of the Irish rural economy and I am conscious of the importance that this key sector plays in rural Ireland. To this effect, I recently launched the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot, a targeted support of €20 million for suckler farmers specifically aimed at further improving the economic and environmental efficiency of beef production. As well as clear environmental and climate benefits, the BEEP will provide farm gate investment at a time of market volatility and uncertainty relating to Brexit. The pilot has been designed to be as straightforward as possible. Applications will be accepted up until this Friday 22 February, and I would urge all eligible farmers to apply.
Additionally, 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. Also, it should be noted an additional €23 million was secured for the ANC scheme in 2019, which, effectively restored the Budget to pre-downturn levels.
While, I am aware of the current challenges facing beef farmers, 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. The UK's decision to leave the EU also presents enormous challenges for the entire beef sector.
I am, however, very conscious that the beef sector is currently facing a difficult period. 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. According to National Farm Survey data, suckler farmers receive support equivalent to approximately €500 per suckler cow on average.
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. At the last Beef Round table, I highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their inter-dependency and to support the sector through examination of mechanisms to add value along the supply chain and 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 strong potential to help strengthen the position of the primary producer in the supply chain.