The beef and sheep sectors are important elements of the Irish economy and I am conscious of the importance that these key sectors plays in rural Ireland.
I am keenly aware that the past year has been very challenging for beef farmers, following a difficult year for farm incomes in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since autumn 2018, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance.
The Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM), which recently closed for applications, will provide temporary exceptional adjustment aid to farmers in the beef sector in Ireland subject to the conditions set out in EU Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1132. BEAM is funded by a combination of EU aid and Exchequer support, provided in light of the difficult circumstances that Irish beef farmers have been facing as a result of the market volatility and uncertainty. Over 34,500 farmers had applied for BEAM at its closing date of 20 September, representing potential commitments of almost €78 million.
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 RDP period.
This year, I introduced the exchequer-funded Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP), a €20 million scheme which will provide suckler farmers with valuable data on the weaning efficiency of their animals.
The Deputy will also be aware that 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 beef farmers under Pillar II of the CAP include GLAS, ANCs and Knowledge Transfer Groups. Sheep and suckler farmers also benefit from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening payments under CAP Pillar I.
In recognising the major challenges faced by the farming sector and the important role that various schemes operated by my Department play in underpinning the viability of many farms, last month I secured agreement from the European Commission that will allow for a higher rate of advance payments under the 2019 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and a number of Rural Development Schemes.
Additionally, I have secured a funding increase to the Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) Scheme which brings the total budget this year to €250m. On foot of changes to EU Regulations, payments under the ANC Scheme will be made in two instalments this year. The initial instalment of 85% worth €168.5m was paid to almost 79,000 farmers last week, with the balancing payments of 15% commencing in early December. These supports provide a major injection of funds to the suckler and sheep sector at an important time.
As regards the sheep sector, I introduced the Sheep Welfare Scheme in December 2016 in order to provide support for sheep farmers in improving welfare standards in the national sheep flock. Participating farmers are paid €10 per eligible ewe, and some €36m issued to farmers in respect of the first two years of the Scheme.
In addition to supports which are available for sheep farmers under the Rural Development Programme, including GLAS, ANCs and Knowledge Transfer Groups, sheep farmers also benefit from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening payments under CAP Pillar I.
I have also made available financial support to sheep farmers for compliance with new sheep EID rules of €100 per farmer and I would like to remind farmers that the closing date for the Sheep EID Tag Subsidy Scheme is 30 September 2019.
The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agri-food exports is a constant and central component of the strategic development of the industry, as evidenced by its placement at the centre of Food Wise 2025, the industry’s strategy for development. Food Wise 2025 prioritises the potential for growth in new and emerging markets, particularly in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Gulf region.
Following my visit to Japan in June, the Japanese market was opened for Irish sheepmeat and the Deputy will be aware of the recent audit visit by Chinese officials to a number of sheep slaughtering plants as part of the on-going efforts to secure access to the Chinese market for Irish sheepmeat.
I am strongly of the view that the current range of supports available to farmers, together with ensuring market access to as many markets as possible, are appropriate supports for the continued development of the sector.
I will continue to argue for as strong a CAP budget as possible, post-2020. In particular, I am committed to ensuring that beef and sheep farmers continue to receive strong support in the next CAP. My view is that such payments should support and encourage farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve the economic and environmental efficiency, of their farming system.