Over 12,600 applications to the Beef Data and Genomics Programme had been received by the Department of Agriculture by Tuesday morning.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, is reminding suckler farmers that the scheme closes for applications at the end of the week – Friday, May 29.

Minister Coveney has targeted that some 35,000 farmers would sign up to the programme. He has said that programme was a unique opportunity for applicants to receive significant financial support to improve their own efficiency and profitability of their herds.

Some €300m has been provided for the Beef Data and Genomics Programme over the lifetime of the Rural Development Programme.

The Minister has said he is anxious to ensure that payments are made to as many farmers as possible this year.

The programme will provide applicants with the tools to improve the breeding in their herds in a way that can increase female fertility, reduce the age of first calving, make calving easier, facilitate a reduction in the calving interval, and reduce the cost of bringing calves to weaning.

Acknowledging the concerns of some farmers about elements of the programme, Minister Coveney said that many of these were based on misunderstanding of the terms and conditions.

He repeated his assurance that there was no question of clawback of payments for minor non compliances, or of penalties for BDGP non compliances being applied across other schemes.

On the question of land retention, he pointed out that on the basis of average stocking rates, the vast majority of suckler farmers would have more than double the land area required to draw down their full entitlements under the scheme and therefore that there would be substantial flexibility in terms of lost leases etc.

There are also provisions permitting participants to transfer land by gift or inheritance to relatives without penalty, provided the contract obligations also move to the transferee, and of course force majeure applies in some instances where commitments under the programme cannot be complied with due to circumstances outside the farmer’s control.

On the question of the use of 2014 as a base year for determining the payment, Minister Coveney said that the provisions allow the use of 2015 as an alternative base on an exceptional basis for new entrants or applicants impacted by force majeure circumstances in 2014, or by persons who would otherwise be excluded from the programme on the basis that they had substantially reduced the size of their herds since 2014.

Such farmers should apply for the scheme before the May 29 deadline and the decision regarding whether to use 2015 as basis, where appropriate, will be decided after the closing date for applications, he said.

Minister Coveney also said potential applicants that there would be time to withdraw from the scheme without penalty after the submission of applications.