BEEP ‘simpler than BDGP’ and ‘the right way to go’

The new Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) is “the right way to go” to make extra money for suckler farmers, according to ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch.

Punch added that the weight-based system of the new scheme will be a simpler, easier sell to farmers than the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP), which he said was flawed.

Punch – of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) – was speaking to presenter Claire Mc Cormack on the latest episode of FarmLand, alongside TD and chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine Pat Deering.

Commenting on BEEP, Punch said: “Broadly we welcome it.

“We in 2016 actually suggested that weighing calves could be a measure that could attract more funding for farmers under the BDGP – and this is about the provision of real data, that can help drive better knowledge about which cows perform and which cows don’t.”

The general secretary said that the priority for the ICSA is now to have some engagement with the department on the detail of the scheme.

This is to ensure that it works as smoothly and as efficiently as possible for farmers, which is going to be critical to its success, he added.

“As a general principle, I think it’s the right way to go – I think it’s some extra money for suckler farmers.

It’s not going to make a huge difference; we still need the beef industry to step up to the plate in terms of beef price – but it is I think a good use of a relatively small amount of money which will deliver some benefit to suckler farmers.

When quizzed on how the scheme will be implemented, Punch noted that BEEP is clearly about weighing calves and cows; some farmers have their own weighing scales – a lot don’t.

The general secretary highlighted that stakeholders have to make sure that weighing scales are readily available to all the farmers who don’t have them, without it being a “cost exercise”.

“We have got to make sure that the €40 goes direct to the farmers who need it, because we have had too many schemes in the past where money leaked out of the system paying advisors and contractors and so on, so we want to make this as simple and straightforward as possible.”

The ICSA representative underlined that the farmer with 20 or 30 animals has to get the full benefit of the €40 per calf, adding that negotiation between the farm representatives and the department would be needed to make sure it is a streamlined system.

“But, in general, I think it is some extra money for the suckler herd; and that’s okay,” Punch said.

BDGP

“Everybody knows there are problems with the BDGP scheme. I think, from the outset, I would say that the problem was that it was pushed forward without adequate consultation and road testing with people that would have understood the pros and cons of the scheme.”

Punch highlighted that there is still a lot of resentment around the fact that star ratings can go up and down, adding that people don’t understand why that is so.

“I think that in the longer term I would like to see the BDGP scheme, if we are going to have another round of it, being reformed in a significant way to take account that not everybody is looking to just produce this maternal cow.

“Some people are looking to breed a weanling for export and I think that should be built into the scheme,” he said.

‘Simpler sell’

“The new BEEP is about weights so its a simpler sell to explain what is going on here.

“You can argue with weights; everybody knows, when you sell your weanling, whatever the weanling weighs obviously has a huge impact on the price – along with the quality and I think that there was too much focus on maternal traits under the BDGP.

I’m not saying they are not relevant but every suckler farmer knows when you see your weanling, weight and quality are the real metrics that decide whether you make money or not.

“And I think also a lot of suckler farmers that have heavy continental cows have felt a little bit threatened by the BDGP scheme; yet they know when they sell those cull cows, they make a lot of money compared to lighter cows.

“So I think, going forward, if we are to have a re-run of this scheme in the next round of CAP funding, we have to have much more consultation between the department, ICBF and farm representatives.”

This, Punch noted, would be to represent the fact that a lot of suckler farmers have a very specific strategy for breeding stock.

“You can’t dictate to them what kind of cows they should have because people know themselves what makes the money,” Punch concluded.