New suckler scheme to address ‘absolute chasm’ between top and bottom herds – Coveney

The new Beef Data and Genomics Programme will address what has been described as an ‘absolute chasm’ between the top and bottom performing suckler herds in the country, according to the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

Responding to criticism of the scheme in the Dail this week he said the Government are committing €300m to the suckler herd.

“I want to give a strong statement from Government in the rural development programme that the suckler herd really matters.

“Tens of thousands of farm families, in every constituency and parish in the country, are deriving an income from suckler beef and we want to keep them there,” he said.

According to Coveney, farmers have nothing of which to be frightened in this scheme. However, he did say that ‘it is true that this is quite a complex scheme’.

“We  want to use the supports that we will be giving through this scheme to ensure that we improve the genetics and breeding performance of the herd.

“We also want to improve the quality of the herd so that animals grow faster, have better confirmation and improve their ease of calving and temperament and so on,” he said.

Minister responds to key questions

Coveney on mandatory six-year contract

There is a reason for asking people to sign up to a six-year contract.

This is an area based scheme under the rural development programme. Farmers are required to buy into the scheme for a certain number of years, as is the case when joining the GLAS scheme, and there are consequences if they pull out.

The reason we need a six year commitment is that if we are going to collect DNA data in the first couple of years, it will only be in the second half of the scheme that we will see the genetic improvements that come from the collected data.

Contract

Farmers have nothing of which to be frightened in this scheme. If something dramatic happens on the farm and a farmer is forced out of the scheme during the six year period, the rules around force majeure will apply. If someone dies on the farm or something like that, we will take that into account.

However, we need this to be a six year commitment by farmers. We are contributing more than €53m a year into the suckler beef sector. That is €300m in total, of which more than half is being paid by the European Union.

Coveney on star rated bulls

I am sure there are examples of a two star bull that has had a better progeny than a four star bull. However, on average, the more stars a bull has, the better the progeny that comes from that animal.

That is the point of a star rating system. The same applies to suckler cows. The better the genetics, the increased likelihood of producing better animals from that herd. This is the purpose of the scheme.

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At least one stock bull on the holding on June 30, 2019, which is four years from now, must be a bull that has been geno-typed four or five star on either the terminal or replacement index or a similar four or five star bull must be retained on the holding until June 30, 2020.

In other words, the farmer can lease the bull.

We are trying to give a signal to farmers that they need to plan to improve the bulls with which they will be breeding their animals and that they have four years to do it.

That is why this is a six-year commitment and not a year-on-year commitment. If someone decides to go into this scheme next year, gets the payments and then decides to pull out, it is of no value to anyone apart from the cash value to the farmer concerned.

Coveney on carbon calculator

This is being done on the basis of a climate change measure, so that we can produce suckler beef more efficiently and so that there will be a lower carbon footprint in our beef herd. It will also mean more profitable beef production.

We will be making a positive contribution from an emissions and climate change point of view because animals will be growing faster and producing meat more efficiently. We will also be helping farmers to become more profitable by producing better bred beef.

The carbon calculator that is being asked of farmers as part of the terms and conditions and the training that farmers need to undertake to understand how they can best use the genomic information that they get back from ICBF will both be paid for separately.

Coveney on payment

This is not a scheme that is simply pumping €95 per calved cow, for the first ten, and €80 per animal after that to support suckler farm income. It does that, but there are requirements and these requirements are not overly expensive.

The €30 that it costs to take a genomic sample last year is likely to be significantly cheaper this year because the numbers involved will be significantly higher, we will benefit from economies of scale and we will have a competitive process to get the price down further from where it was last year.

According to the Minister all of the things the Department have designed in this scheme are concerned with helping farmers to become more efficient and profitable and to produce better herds based on better breeding programmes.

“We are training farmers to use the scientific genomic data that we will collect from their herds, matched with the performance data farmers will provide, to help them do that.

This is a win-win situation for everyone.

The Minister said it is not an attempt to capture farmers or tie them into things that they do not want to do.

It is about working with farmers, getting information from them and giving it back to them in a form that with training results in better breeding programmes in our suckler beef herd.

If there is one thing I know since becoming Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine it is that the difference between the top performing suckler herds and the bottom performing suckler herds is an absolute chasm at the moment.

The Minster said we must help everyone move into a more efficient way of producing beef, which is more profitable for them and which is more climate efficient for us in terms of the targets we have to meet in agriculture.

“This is the purpose of the scheme. We will pay people to be part of that journey.”

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