McConalogue interview: ‘Real opportunity now’ for suckler income supports

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has outlined that his objective is “to try and support the sector and support incomes” when it comes to suckler and beef farming.

The new minister said that he is “not going to be prescriptive” on the terms, when asked by AgriLand if he intends to follow through with a coupled payment for suckler cows, but underlined a commitment to improving farmer incomes in the sector.

Minister McConalogue was quizzed on the topic as part of an extensive interview with AgriLand news editor Stella Meehan and journalist Sylvester Phelan.

You have previously advocated for coupled payments for suckler cows and a €200/cow payment. Will you bring this forward? What measures will you now look at?

Minister McConalogue: I’m a very strong advocate – and rightly so I think – because the beef sector and suckler sector is a very important part of our agricultural sector and it has the highest number of farmers as well.

It also, in terms of margins, has been very low but it does contribute a very significant amount to our agri-food sector in terms of quality produce.

So it is something that I believe we need to see good margins in and good income…and to support the income of those who are in the suckler and beef sector. The question will be about how best we can do that.

In the Dáil I have consistently been advocating [for] the needs of the beef and suckler sector and, particularly, in terms of Pillar II.

There is a real opportunity there now, with the next CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] being framed, to look at how we support the incomes of those in the suckler and beef sector and engage with farming representative organisations as to how we can try and ensure that incomes are supported and [to look at] what mechanisms we will use to do that.

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On this point, back in December you said that the BDGP [Beef Data and Genomics Programme] should be looked at – to possibly reform it into a €200/cow payment. Prior to that you backed the Irish Farmers’ Association’s 2018 campaign for a coupled payment. Is this still your view, as to how the sector should be supported?

Minister McConalogue: There have been important initiatives there in relation to genomic typing and in relation to trying to improve genetics. That has been supported financially through the BDGP sector.

Obviously, as a follow-on from that, the BEEP [Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot] scheme and BEEP-S [Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme – Suckler] scheme added additional income but also additional measures.

I’m not hung up in relation to how we would do it or what way we would support it, but I think ultimately the focus has to be on looking at margins that farmers have and their bottom line – in terms of their income…and [to] reward the work that they’re carrying out.

I’m open to ideas in that regard. I’m open to building on what’s been there.

Would it be more like BEEP, for example, whereby there are certain conditions attached – in terms of weighing animals…with a focus on the calf as much as the cow? Would it be based on ‘efficiency’?

Minister McConalogue: We’ve had a number of schemes in the past. We’ve had the suckler cow welfare scheme previously as well…and more recent follow-ons in relation to BDGP and BEEP-S.

I’m not going to be prescriptive at this stage, but my objective is to try and support the sector and incomes.

That is the strong objective I have. I think it’s important that farmers do see a return for the work that they’re doing – in terms of the bottom line.

I will engage very closely with them in terms of how we put in place schemes that do deliver…and in terms of income, but also deliver in terms of progress and objectives and good initiatives which are to the benefit of all – such as genotyping, better genetics, better breeding. [Those initiatives] contribute to incomes as well.