The Irish Government has provided significant financial support to the beef sector over the past number of years through national funding and the rural development programme.
The Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) provides Irish beef farmers with up to €300 million in funding over the current Rural Development Programme (RDP) and provides a high degree of important performance data to beef farmers to drive efficiency through facilitating better decision making.
My Department has rolled out a range of other schemes from which beef farmers benefit, as part of the €4 billion RDP including GLAS, ANCs and Knowledge Transfer Groups. Suckler farmers also benefit, of course, from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening payments under CAP Pillar I.
In 2019, a further €20 million of exchequer funding was made available through the Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme, to encourage farmers to measure the weaning efficiency of their suckler cows.
The Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) has provided 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. Over 34,500 farmers had applied for BEAM at its closing date of 20 September, representing potential commitments of up to €78 million.
In recognition of the important income support role played by the ANC scheme, the total allocation for the scheme has been increased by €48m over the last two budgets (€25m in Budget 2018 and €23m in Budget 2019). In both 2018 and 2019, payment rates in the scheme were increased, with a targeting of increases corresponding to the different level of constraint in the different categories of land in the scheme.
In Budget 2020, I have provided almost €85 million in targeted schemes to support sustainable beef farming. This includes almost €45 million for the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP), and a further €40 million for targeted supports. I intend to consult with stakeholders as to the use of these funds.
In addition, in the event of a No-Deal Brexit, my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform confirmed in Budget 2020 that a Brexit contingency fund of €650 million will be available to support our most vulnerable sectors, to be activated in tranches as the full impacts emerge. €110 million will be made available through my Department in the first tranche, of which €85 million will be provided in immediate supports for beef farmers. This will, of course, be supplemented by any exceptional aid provided from the EU under the CMO regulation.
There have been a series of formal negotiations with beef sector stakeholders, facilitated by my Department, since early August, culminating in an agreement being reached between stakeholders on Sunday 15 September.
The full text of the Agreement and updates on work progressed to date is available on my Department's website: https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmingsectors/beef/beeftaskforce/
The Agreement involves a number of interventions which will provide immediate benefit for beef producers, as well as a range of strategic measures which seek to address structural imbalances in the sector.
Beef producers will benefit from an immediate increase in a range of bonuses. This will increase the level of bonus being paid on certain animals, as well as significantly increasing the number of animals which are eligible for a bonus. The cumulative effect is that over 70% of all steer and heifers slaughtered will now be eligible for a bonus on top of the base price paid.
A number of actions in the area of market transparency, beef promotion and strengthening the position of the farmer in the supply chain are included in the Agreement. These measures set a course towards greater clarity for all stakeholders involved in the beef supply chain, primarily farmers.
My Department is also proactively engaging with several potential beef Producer Organisations, which have to potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by my Department in recent weeks.
I have established a Beef Market Taskforce to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. It was deeply regrettable that the first meeting scheduled for 14 October was unable to proceed. However the independent chair and Department officials continue to engage proactively with Taskforce members with a view to enabling its important work to progress.
Trade Missions play an important role in promoting the Irish agri-food sector and in market development, and I have been very active on this front in recent years as we strive to gain and develop a presence in as many global markets as possible. A significant achievement was gaining access to the Chinese market for beef in 2018 and expanding this access to 14 further beef plants in 2019. Access was also achieved for beef to Qatar, Kuwait and Ukraine in 2018 and improved conditions for export agreed with Japan in 2019.
I am very aware of the significant difficulites facing beef farmers as a result of a sustained period of low prices. However, I believe that the range of financial and developmental supports available, coupled with the prioritisation of optimising access to third country markets is the correct path to continue on and I plan to support the sector by building on this work.