Almost 60% oppose a €200 suckler payment funded from all farmers’ ‘basic payments’

Almost 60% of farmers would be opposed to the introduction of a new €200 / suckler cow subsidy, if it was to be funded from the existing pot of ‘basic payments’ for all Irish farmers.

That’s according to the findings of a recent AgriLand poll.

Although deliberations over the potential setting up of a new suckler support payment continue to be asserted on the floor of the Dail, and among the upper echelons of some of the country’s farming organisations, meaningful suggestions on how such a scheme would be funded have been few and far between.

Over recent months, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed has stated his commitment to ensuring that the productivity and efficiency of the suckler herd continues to improve – particularly through the Beef Data and Genomics Scheme.

He has also repeatedly stated his reservations to financing a €200/cow subsidy – much to the frustration of various farm lobby groups.

But do the figures stack up?

Based on the number of suckler cows in the most recent Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) statistics – recorded by the Department of Agriculture – any introduction of a coupled suckler cow payment under Pillar I of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would necessitate a linear reduction in all farmers’ existing basic payments of approximately €175 million to fund such a scheme.

AgriLand decided to ask readers for their opinion on the funding of a potential suckler support scheme.

In response to the question: “Would you support a new suckler cow payment if it meant a reduction in ‘basic payments’ across the board?”, a total of 58% of respondents voted ‘No’; while 42% voted ‘Yes’.

Just short of 2,000 individual votes were recorded.

Main obstacles

Speaking in the Dail, during a Fianna Fail tabled motion on potential suckler sector supports, Minister Creed last week outlined three barriers to establishing such a payment.

“A fully exchequer-funded support scheme would require approval by the European Commission under state aid regulations and would need to comply with our obligations under the World Trade Organisation rules.

Secondly; while there have been calls for the use of savings within the existing Rural Development Programme (RDP) to be used for additional supports, I wish to restate and make absolutely clear that there are no surplus funds available within the RDP above and beyond the funding already allocated, which has been committed to existing schemes within the RDP.

“Finally; any allocation of funding under Pillar I of the CAP would in principle have required a linear reduction of an estimated 18% to all existing farmers’ Basic Payment Scheme payments for redistribution.

“In fact, the deadline for any such change to the Pillar I scheme in the current round has already passed,” he said.

Suckler population

Farm organisations – including the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) – have made repeated calls for a suckler subsidy to be introduced to protect the sector – which they fear is in a state of decline.

However, official statistics from the department demonstrate that suckler cow numbers nationwide have declined by just 4% over the last seven years.

According to the department’s AIM system, in December 2010 the total number of suckler cows in Ireland was 911,104; on December 31, 2017, the figure stood at 870,567 – a drop of 40,537 or 4.4%.

Throughout the seven-year period, the total suckler herd population appears to have steadily fluctuated up and down.

Since 2010, 21 counties have experienced some element of decline in suckler cow numbers – the range varies from the lowest drop of 183 head in Co. Clare to the highest drop of 9,232 in Co. Cork.

Other noteworthy reductions have occurred in Co. Tipperary (down 6,976), Co. Waterford (down 5,335) and Co. Donegal (down 4,812).

It has been highlighted that the counties which have experienced the most significant suckler decline are those that have also experienced substantial dairy expansion in recent years – thus indicating that some farmers are converting from suckler to dairy enterprises for commercial reasons.

In line with the analysis of the figures, the suckler cow is defined as a beef / beef cross female aged more than or equal to 18 months on December 31 of every year between 2010 and 2017 and registered as the dam of a calf born in the profile year.