Heated debate over suggested €200 suckler cow payment

A heated debate took place over a suggested €200 per suckler cow payment at the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) Annual General Meeting (AGM) this evening.

The IFA has repeatedly called for such a payment to be put in place to combat the demise of the suckler herd.

But the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, was quick to quench any suggestions that the department could fund such a scheme through its suggested €100 million underspend.

Commenting on the issue, he said: “It has been suggested that we have a €100 million underspend at the moment and therefore that’s available to fund a suckler cow initiative.

Quite simply, that is to misunderstand the budgetary process that we go through. This is gaining traction based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the department operates, what are, multi-annual schemes.

“It is not a saving; it’s an underspend that is contractually obliged,” he said.

Commenting on the current national suckler herd, the minister added that there hasn’t been – by and large – an exodus from the suckler sector since the end of the milk quota era.

“The overall reduction is about 6% in the herd; it’s bigger in certain counties – I think the county with the biggest reduction is Kilkenny, the second biggest reduction in the suckler herd is in Cork,” he said.

BDGP

He indicated that the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) is delivering €300 million over the lifetime of the Rural Development Programme (RDP).

Continuing, the minister said: “One of the challenges that we face in fact has been – with the expansion of the dairy herd – the significant increase in cattle numbers generally; I think we’ve managed that quite successfully.

But if you go to a coupled payment, there is a danger that you could undermine the progress that you are making under BDGP – which is focused on driving quality and genetic improvement, which is something that the dairy herd has embraced for a long time.

“The BDGP scheme isn’t without its critics – still – but, I mean broadly speaking the direction of travel with that scheme is correct.

“The flexibility to introduce a coupled payment would have to come from the existing envelope under the RDP.”

‘Not a lucrative business’

Minister Creed explained that if you were to take a slice from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), it would necessitate a cut in the region of 18% to fund a €200 per suckler cow payment.

There are one million suckler cows, we’re talking about €200 million per year. I don’t have that resource; I’m not sure that cutting everybody’s Single Farm Payment (also know as BPS) is something that would be [welcomed].

“But I am open to – in the context of the CAP post-2020 – [seeing] how we can consolidate the herd; that’s important, I do acknowledge the significance and the contribution and the quality that the suckler herd brings.

“I equally acknowledge that it is not a lucrative business. I also believe though that it is possible to improve competitiveness. I don’t have the flexibility within the RDP to pay €200 per suckler cow,” he said.

During the question and answer session, the minister was also pressed on the current fodder situation. He confirmed that a fodder transport subsidy will be announced in the coming days; but, he would not be drawn down on any specific details as yet.

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