€40/suckler cow: ‘Farmers need to understand why they are weighing their calves’

Shane and Joanne Bowers run a pedigree Aubrac herd in Shrubbywood, Co. Westmeath. Both Shane and Joanne work off-farm, but have a real passion for efficient farming – something they believe the Aubrac breed brings to the table for farmers.

In this week’s budget, the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, announced the availability of funding for a new €20 million beef support package – the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP).

Under the scheme, farmers will receive a payment of up to €40/cow for collecting weight data on cows and calves.

It is understood that the Department of Agriculture 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.

Once completed, the information will then be submitted by the farmer to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), where it will be used to strengthen proofs under both the Terminal and Replacement indices.

‘A positive move going forward’

The Bowers believe that both this scheme and the BDGP – which is aimed at improving the genetic merit of the suckler herd – are very important.

“We’ve been involved with the BDGP from the beginning. The package itself probably wasn’t sold as well as it could have been; there was definitely a lack of education around it,” Joanne said.

“But for us, we definitely feel that it is a very positive move forward. With the BDGP, there is a focus on efficiency, a focus on calving interval and how to produce beef as efficiently as possible.”

The BEEP is seen by the department and the ICBF as a route to not only boost incomes for the sector; but also as a way of rewarding efficiency within the national suckler herd.

“For us, because we’ve been weighing calves from the beginning anyway, the €40 is a bonus so we’re getting paid for something we’ve already been doing.

“But I think an education package needs to come with it, so that people understand why they are weighing their calves and why there’s a need to record the birth weight of a calf.”

Joanne also noted that it is important for farmers to get a concept of the weight gain that’s involved from birth to weaning and to be able to see if it is efficient.

“That education needs to be rolled out to farmers with some idea of professional development around that,” she added.

A benefit for farmers

In the aftermath of the budget, some farm organisations welcomed the BEEP. The Bowers also believe that this is the way forward and that it will be of benefit to participating suckler farmers.

“We would definitely recommend it; you know how each cow is performing by the weight data per calf throughout the year.

“We’ve been doing it for the last four or five years and it has proved its worth. We cull what isn’t performing and hold on to what is,” Shane explained.

Prior to this week’s budget, there were calls for a payment of €200/suckler cow. However, this was dismissed, as it was feared that it could create an inefficient scenario.

Joanne said: “You could argue that it is never enough. If it were a bigger number, one would worry that it is only going to create a false floor, and the inefficiencies will still exist in farming and in producing a good-quality animal for as little as possible.”

Areas of Natural Constraint payments

An allocation of €23 million – as part of an ANC payment for disadvantaged areas – was also rolled out in this week’s budget.

This will bring the ANC payment budget back to the pre-recession period in 2008; both Shane and Joanne welcomed this move.

“It will definitely benefit our farm because we have marginal ground and you just can’t make as much profit as you could with good land; it is needed on this type of ground.”

Joanne continued: “Every little helps. It’s definitely a bonus that we are happy to receive; we certainly won’t complain about it.”