The operational details of a €40m investment package for suckler farmers in 2014 has been announced this morning. 

The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, on a visit to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) offices in Bandon Co Cork, commented: “I am delighted to be launching this package of measures for the Irish suckler sector here today. This sector is the seedbed for one of our largest indigenous industries and I am committed to supporting it to ensure that the growth opportunities for the sector can be realised. Our beef exports were worth over €2.1bn last year and we can continue to grow that figure with well targeted investments such as these, particularly at farm level.”

The package will include a €23m genomics programme, €10m for the Beef Data programme, €5m for the Beef Technology Adoption Programme and €2m in residual payments under the suckler cow welfare scheme.

According to the department, the genomics programme will provide a payment of €40 per calf to scheme participants in return for genotyping a selection of their animals.

Genomic selection is a genetic evaluation tool that can assess the performance traits of an animal using a DNA sample. This information then allows the farmer to base decisions on breeding by using the best available genetic information on his animals which have been genomically tested.

Commenting specifically on the genomics scheme, the minister said: “This is a very exciting initiative that can help place Ireland firmly to the forefront globally in beef genetics, enhance our reputation as a world leader in sustainable food production, increase the carbon efficiency of the sector, and from a marketing perspective, help to reinforce the uniqueness of our offering on EU and world markets.

“The current use of genomics in dairy animals has helped transform Irish dairy cattle breeding and deliver tangible gains for farmers. Introducing it for the suckler sector will help to accelerate the kind of genetic improvement that will drive efficiency and increase profitability for Irish suckler farmers.”

The minister also paid tribute to the work of Teagasc and of ICBF and its role in developing a national database of breeding information, commenting “I was delighted to see at first hand the work of the ICBF and to hear about some of the exciting initiatives that it is driving to the benefit of Irish livestock farmers. This work has been ongoing for some time with the assistance of my department and the involvement of industry stakeholders.

“The contribution that the ICBF has made to improved breeding over the last few years is the envy of many of our international competitors and continues to deliver improved profitability at farm level through better informed breeding decisions by farmers. And this work could not have been done without the vital input of Teagasc which has been at the forefront of a range of initiatives to improve the profitability of beef farmers. This programme is further proof of the benefits of such collaboration in Irish agriculture and I would also like to acknowledge the input to date from the farm organisations, breed societies, AI stations and milk recording organisations.”

Commenting on the other schemes announced in the €40m package, the minister added: “I am delighted to be extending these schemes into 2014 and build on the transfer of knowledge and best practice to beef farmers through the Beef Technology Adoption Programme (BTAP) and the collection through the Beef Data Programme of animal events data that will link to the genetic data gathered through the Beef Genomics Scheme.

The minister concluded: “This investment package provided by the Government is a vote of confidence in the Irish suckler sector and will allow it to develop and increase profitability at farm level. The funding for these measures was one of my priorities in the budget. They are key examples of the smart green growth initiatives proposed in the Food Harvest 2020 Strategy. I look forward to building on these ideas in our Rural Development Programme from 2015 and to assisting Irish beef farmers by building a sustainable sector with long-term growth potential.”

Details of the scheme

€23m has been allocated for the BGS in 2014 and the department will send out BGS application forms to some 70,000 beef farmers. The scheme will fund payments on approximately 550,000 calves in 2014.

Under this new scheme farmers will have to take DNA samples from 15 per cent of the female animals in their herd which will be specified by ICBF, along with the stock bull, and send these samples to a laboratory for genotyping.

The results of these genotyopes will be stored in the ICBF database and returned to the scheme’s participants in respect of their animals tested.  This will mean that the farmer will be able to base decisions on breeding by using the best available genetic information on his animals which have been genomically tested.

As a condition of the BGS, scheme participants commit, in the event of a positive or inconclusive test result for BVD, to removing the PI calf to a knackery within the timeframes laid down in the Terms and Conditions of the Scheme.

BGS participants must also be in the Beef Data Programme 2014.

Participants in the Beef Data Programme will receive up to €20 per calf.

To assist beef farmers with on-going education the department has been operating the Beef Technology Adoption Programme (BTAP). The programme provides a forum for farmers to share information, develop business plans and improve the productivity of their farms under the guidance of public and private sector facilitators.

Suckler herd on grass. Photo O’Gorman Photography