Calls have been made for the allocation of €120 million in the upcoming budget to develop a new sustainable suckler cow payment by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA).

The farmers’ group is making the call as part of its pre-budget submission ahead of Budget 2019.

The request is “the strongest message possible to our ministers, Government and all politicians that action on this is needed now in order to ensure the survival of this sector”, according to INHFA president Colm O’Donnell.

Highlighting the difficult weather conditions throughout 2018 and ongoing concern over fodder, O’Donnell warned of a sharp decline in suckler numbers as farmers offload cows due to lack of money and fodder shortages.

“Add to this concern over the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and the implications that would have for our beef exports and you can start to appreciate the growing sense of panic that is gripping the industry,” he added.

Dismissing an extension of the BDGP as “too complicated and not delivering financially”, the group is requesting funding for a national scheme to “provide farmers with the best outcome”.

O’Donnell said: “A national sustainable suckler cow scheme would, on a budget of €120 million, be in a position to provide immediate support to suckler cow farmers by providing supports of up to €3,500.”

The president added that the scheme should be “simple, easy to implement and easy to qualify for”, without any retention period.

With this in mind we are recommending that the model used in the Old Sheep Grassland Scheme could be adopted and used.

“By following this model, we can target the money directly at the smaller suckler farmers who are the cornerstone of the industry and ensure the scheme is sustainable both from a budgetary and environmental viewpoint.”