Two farming organisations have said that no agreement has been reached by the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group on a suckler exit scheme.

The remit of the group, established by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, is to identify measures that the beef sector can take to contribute to reducing emissions from the agricultural sector.

The group is due to present an initial report to the minister by end of this month, with a final plan to be submitted by end of November.

A discussion document prepared for the group by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), seen by Agriland, outlines 17 proposed measures to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the beef sector.

These are set out in the short, medium and long term, and correspond with the three carbon budget periods.

The full list of proposed recommendations due to be considered by the group are as follows:

  • Voluntary exit/reduction scheme;
  • Reduce age of slaughter to an average of 24-27 months;
  • Reduce age of first calving from 36 to 24 months;
  • Development of methane-mitigating feed technologies;
  • Target a percentage replacement rate of CAN with protected urea by the end of 2025 for grass-based beef production systems;
  • Reduce chemical nitrogen (N) use in the beef sector;
  • Increase organic production;
  • Explore the potential of cap and trade methane-focused emissions model;
  • Development of methane mitigating breeding strategies;
  • Establish robust methodologies for measuring and monitoring carbon production at individual farm level;
  • Improve nitrogen use efficiency. Ensure a percentage of beef farms are soil testing for pH;
  • Drive clover adoption and multi-species swards (MSS);
  • Increased adoption of low-emissions slurry spreading (LESS);
  • Introduce animal health measures;
  • Develop energy diversification opportunities;
  • Design a climate action communications strategy;
  • Increase investment in climate change research and knowledge transfer and establish an agriculture and climate change research liaison group.

Among the DAFM proposals is examining the potential for suckler farmers to voluntarily exit from breeding livestock or to reduce their numbers of breeding ruminants for a minimum number of years.

However, both the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) have stressed that no final agreement has been reached on any of the proposals, including any suckler exit scheme.

ICSA Beef chair Edmund Graham outlined that the discussion document, created by DAFM, was presented to members of the group at last week’s meeting in Backweston in Co. Kildare.

“Several of these discussion points resulted in heated exchanges as to whether they were practical, affordable, and how markets would be affected. No agreements were reached, and no recommendations were made,” he said.

“The work of the group is ongoing, and all proposals put forward by the department are set to be debated further.

“The Food Vision group is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, September 15, I am calling on Minister McConalogue to clarify this issue as a matter of urgency,” Graham added.

IFA National Livestock chair Brendan Golden also stated that no agreement had been reached.

“The focus of this report must be to build a sustainable suckler and beef herd in the country and reverse the decline we have witnessed, due to the lack of meaningful Government support,” he added.

Golden said that the document failed to outline the level of new government funding available to the sector to support the adoption of recommendations.

He also pointed to an absence of any cost and production impact assessment, including the carbon leakage impact, of failing to appropriately support Irish suckler and beef farmers.

Membership of the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group, chaired by Prof. Thia Hennessy, includes representatives from the the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM); farming organisations; Teagasc; Bord Bia; University College Dublin (UCD); Animal Health Ireland (AHI); and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).