Reducing suckler slaughter age, one of the proposals set out in the government’s Climate Action Plan, “will do nothing to reduce emissions”, a farm organisation has cautioned today (Tuesday, January 17). 

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) said it views the targets outlined in the Climate Action Plan as an “immediate threat to suckler farmers with larger carcass breeds”.

Vincent Roddy, president of the INHFA, said the targets, which were initially set out as proposals in the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group report and then incorporated into the government’s Climate Action Plan 2023, are not in line with a “sustainable farming model”.

The INHFA withdrew from the Food Vision group discussions last November before the report was published.

Targets for suckler slaughter age

The government’s latest Climate Action Plan sets out a target to get “processors and farmers to reduce the average age of slaughter to 24–25 months” by 2025 and a further target of 22-23 months for the average age of slaughter by 2030.

Roddy believes this would have a particularly severe impact on farmers with larger carcass breeds that cannot be finished at the ages proposed.

“But it will also impact other areas of the beef industry by creating a glut of cattle for slaughter each spring.

“We must also recognise how a 24-month slaughter date will reduce farmers’ ability to maximise beef gain from grass by ruling out the second grazing season,” the INHFA president said.

Roddy believes that instead of lowering emissions the targets set out in the Climate Action Plan to reduce the age of slaughter could instead result in emissions rising.

He believes the approach should instead be to “assess the efficiency of the animal in producing a kilo of beef rather than the age of the animal which is currently proposed”.

Roddy said the INHFA and other farm organisations had repeatedly raised their concerns about the targets and proposed reduction in slaughter age with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue.

However, he said that the minister appeared “determined to persist with this proposal irrespective of these concerns which clearly undermines a stated objective of his – that being to protect the suckler sector”.

No cull

The INHFA president did welcome a commitment from the minister that there will be not be a cull of suckler cows.

Roddy believes any move of this nature would have done “enormous reputational damage to our naturally reared suckler beef sector”.

The INHFA said it is essential that the minister continues to actively support suckler farmers and it is calling on the government to introduce a “new welfare-type suckler scheme targeting extensive suckler systems”.

According to Roddy, this, combined with an aggressive marketing campaign, could help to deliver a “sustainable future for our suckler farmers and the communities they support”.