The European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has been criticised “over his meddling with the future sustainability of Ireland’s suckler farmers”.

The President of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA), Colm O’Donnell, has said the commissioner is “completely offside with his views on culling suckler cows”.

O’Donnell added: “Now it all makes sense; Big Phil was setting the scene for the €100 million fund for market disturbance announced prior to the election.

It now appears there could be conditionality attached to this funding that includes a reduction clause or restructuring for the beef sector.

“Having viewed where the commission and member states can co-finance an exceptional market support measure for beef or veal, then it must be related to health and veterinary measures adopted to combat the spread of disease,” stated O’Donnell.

Any reduction requirement for suckler farmers in the BDGP would clearly be problematic and run at variance with this scheme.

“There is also the issue for commonage farmers in a GLAS plan where there is a minimum stock requirement that is often met by suckler cows, weanlings and store cattle.

“And for many other farmers on a low stocking rate that is sometimes prescribed, then a forced reduction could see them fall below the ANC stocking density threshold.”

Concluding, O’Donnell called for “full transparency” in relation to all documentation and correspondence on the support fund.

He also pointed to EU regulations where urgency procedures are necessary in order to support farmers experiencing the threat of market disturbance or where it is occurring, stating “as we understand it there is no legal requirement for a reduction in suckler numbers to comply with this regulation”.