In the first of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s ‘Town Hall’ webinars on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a department official outlined the rationale for implementing a limit on increasing suckler cow numbers under the future policy.

In the department’s CAP Strategic Plan (CSP) that was revealed at the very end of last month, the section on the ‘Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme’ states that participants in that upcoming scheme would be prevented from increasing numbers.

This has caused much consternation among farm leaders since it was confirmed.

However, at the webinar, which took place yesterday evening (Tuesday, August 11) department official Valerie Woods sought to explain why this limit would be implemented, stating it was not for the purpose of capping production.

“In relation to the cap in numbers, it’s not about seeking to reduce production or reducing numbers,” Woods said.

She added: “While the measures in the scheme will help reduce emissions from cows overall, there is a danger that this could be offset or negated by allowing increased production. [The cap] is to safeguard against this.”

Woods said: “It is important to reiterate the point that this is fundamentally an environmental scheme.

“People who sign up are being asked to stick at their numbers for that reason, because one of the core objectives is to reduce emissions.”

On the reference number for the scheme (which will determine the ‘maximum’ number of suckler cows under the scheme) the department official said that the calculation to determine this hasn’t been decided yet, though at the moment an average figure over a number of years is the main line of thought.

This, Woods said, would be “in the interest of fairness” to farmer who reduced numbers due to the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure Scheme (BEAM) or had been subject to TB restrictions or other management issues.

Department to make changes to Town Hall format

The virtual Town Hall meeting last night has come in for criticism over its format, with no possibility for engagement from viewers, apart from written questions through previous emails or the ‘question’ function through the webinar hosting platform.

Responding to this, the department has moved to make an alternation to the format for the meetings tonight and tomorrow, whereby participants can now, subject to time pressures, read out questions they have emailed in or submitted during the event.