Communications strategy ‘vital’ to new €40/head beef scheme

A communications strategy and consultation process will be vital to the roll-out of the Government’s new €20 million Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) scheme, Fine Gael TD Pat Deering has stated.

Speaking last night (October 11), on episode 6 of FarmLand, the chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine highlighted that lessons have been learned from introduction of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) – launched in 2015 –  in which approximately 25,000 farmers are currently enrolled.

Under the BEEP scheme – announced as a beef sector support under Budget 2019 – farmers will receive a payment of up to €40/cow for collecting weight data on cows and calves.

The scheme is aimed at incentivising the collection of further data that’s not currently available in a significant volume to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) under the BDGP scheme.

In line with the country’s climate change obligations and targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, the BEEP scheme will involve getting data on the weanling efficiency of the suckler herd.

Weanling efficiency is determined as the weight of the weanling relative to the weight of the suckler cow.

Smaller beef cow

After this week’s announcement, Michael Creed, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine stated: “The journey really is to get a smaller beef cow. Therefore, being more economically efficient, producing a bigger weanling and the more data we can get in that context is going to accelerate the development of a genetically more efficient beef herd.

“So this scheme will pay on the assumption of 500,000 weanlings participating; it will deliver a payment of €40/weanling on that basis,” he said.

The ambition is that this scheme – which is not confined to just those farmers participating in the BDGP – will be available to applicants early next summer.

However, Deering has cautioned that farmers’ understanding of the scheme will be vital to participation.

“There needs to be a communications strategy. There is no doubt that the previous scheme, the BDGP did get off to a very rocky start and some farmers didn’t get into it for their own particular reasons, so it got a bad start and a bad name.

“I do think it requires a bit of adjustment as we go forward and, if it is going to part of a new rural development in the next CAP, I do think there needs to be more flexibility in it,” said Deering.

Data game

He stated that the BDGP’s focus on maternal traits “needs to be fleshed out more”.

“There was not enough consultation – there is no doubt about that and consultation is very important.

As we go forward with the BEEP scheme, there needs to be a consultation before it’s actually rolled out from a practical point of view, and I think we can learn a lot from the past.

He frankly stated that going forward “data is the name of the game”.

“If you look at the dairy sector over 20 years ago, they introduced data initiatives as well and they probably learned a lot from that in the last number of years.

“I firmly believe that over the next number of years, the data that is collected in the BDGP and the weights that are going to be collected in the next scheme will be hugely beneficial to the whole sector as we move forward,” Deering said.

It is understood that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will invest in mobile weighing scales – that will be positioned in co-ops throughout the country – to make it possible for farmers to collect the necessary data.

It is envisaged that farmers will ‘borrow’ these scales from certain co-ops and perform the weight recording – as laid out under the pilot programme – on their own farms.