Has a suckler-based slaughter premium any merit?

No doubt the debate on how to deliver sustainability for Ireland’s national suckler herd will gather greater momentum over the coming months.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed seems to have set his face against the introduction of a bespoke headage payment on suckler cows.

However, he does favour the introduction of a premium payment, which would encourage the earlier slaughter of suckler-bred young stock.

Does this idea have legs and is it worthy of further consideration?

Ireland’s suckler beef sector has a proven track record in keeping ‘production agriculture’ as a way-of-life in rural areas across the country. The bolstering of prices paid for suckler-bred stock is much needed.

But will it help prevent the haemorrhaging of suckler cows that is currently taking place in this country?

Beef, no matter how good its quality, is treated as a commodity product. And this reality places a ceiling on what the market can deliver.

European Union (EU) Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan has been talking about the need for greater transparency within the agri food chain and getting more money back to the primary producer.

But, so far, how much action have we seen on the ground?

Perhaps this is because every member state within the EU is committed to a cheap food policy.

Moreover, the European supermarkets bring tremendous political influence to bear when it comes to them running their businesses. They see give-away food prices as a core driver of footfall into their shops.

What’s really needed to keep suckler beef production as a viable, mainstream option in Ireland is a support package that really reflects the needs of those farmers involved within the sector and, what’s more, fully recognises the public good they engender.

And there are serious problems coming down the track. We already know that the UK’s departure from Europe will leave a significant hole in the EU’s finances – with agriculture first in line to take the brunt of whatever fiscal deficit emerges.

The new review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is now gathering momentum.

Given these circumstances, should our farming organisations now come up with detailed proposals on how support measures for suckler beef production might be ring-fenced?

If Brussels fails to move on this issue, its significance is so important (for the agri-food sector as a whole in this country) perhaps bespoke national support measures will be needed.