The beef sector is an important element of the Irish economy and I am conscious of the importance that this key sector 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 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.
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. It is not possible to change the terms and conditions of the scheme, which was notified to the Commission at the end of July, as required under the Exceptional Aid implementing regulation.
This year, I also 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. The Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme, which is of particular importance to beef farmers, has an increased budget this year of €250 million.
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.
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.
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 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.