Friday 30 September 2016

Department is 'flexible' on beef genomics scheme terms

Officials move to allay fears over retirement and farm transfer conditions

Joe Healy

Published 07/10/2015 | 02:30

Henry Burns
Henry Burns

Close on 1,000 farmers have successfully appealed on the 2014 base date for the beef data genomics programme (BDGP), a heated information meeting on the scheme was told last week.

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Department of Agriculture official Gordon Conroy told more than 300 people gathered at Elphin Mart in Co Roscommon that the Department does not want suckler farmers to face penalties on the timeframe set out for the scheme.

He said that flexibility would be shown in relation to force majeure, land sales, cases of a farmer retiring or transferring the farm over to the next generation.

Mr Conroy stated those taking over farms would not have to remain invovled for the remainder of the term to avoid clawback.

Over 29,000 herds had applied to join by the closing date.

A small percentage have since withdrawn, while 950 out of 1,000 appeals dealing with setting 2014 as the base year for calculating payments based on stock numbers have been successful.

Much of the anger and concern shown by farmers who attended the meeting was focused on a lack of consultation, fears over clawback of payments on the six-year rule, the eligibility of three star cows and the 60pc annual genomic test requirments.

A number of farmers also expressed annoyance that Department personnel are only now attending and organising information meetings despite the scheme being announced over five months ago.

One farmer queried if it was the sign of an election that may have prompted Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to "send out the troops".

Star ratings

The head of ICBF, Sean Coughlan, stressed farmers do not have to get rid of performing cows due to star ratings and do not have to buy in heifers to meet the requirements but can breed their own if they wish.

"We want to hold onto the good traits we have already and improve the milk and fertility as we may have gone one or two steps too far on the terminal side over the past decade or so," said Mr Coughlan.

In an attempt to allay fears, he said that even at the moment 92pc of herds are meeting 2018 requirements, while 72pc are meeting 2020 requirements.

A "good cow" will produce a calf per year capable of high weight gain, good confirmation and temperament, easy calving and will last in the herd, he said.

Mr Coughlan highlighted trials carried out on 34,000 females born in 2008 that compared the five star cows to the one star cows.

He pointed out 79pc of the higher star cows were still alive compared to 64pc of the one stars.

In addition, they had 4.5 progeny compared to 3.9, an average weanling sale weight of 328kg compared to 300kg and an average sale price of €786 as opposed to €757 for the one star.

Over their lifetime the five star cow had produced weanlings to the value of €3,587, which was €607 more than the €2,980 weanling value for the one star cow.

He acknowledged that while genomics is not an exact science, it is nonetheless a tool that cannot be ignored.

IFA livestock chairman Henry Burns said they were determined the €52m funding would be paid out to farmers. He repeated the findings from UCDs Professor Alan Renwick that every €1 in supports put into the suckler herd returns €4 to the rural economy.

Mr Burns said for the scheme to reach its potential, Mr Coveney needs to address a number of key issues, especially allowing the three star animals qualify and reducing the 60pc genotyping requirement.

He said some important changes had been secured including reducing the cost of genotyping down from €30 to €22 per sample but more changes are necessary.

The IFA man urged the Department people present to relay the very real anger and frustration of the meeting back to Mr Coveney and he called on him to reopen the scheme.

The Agriculture Department, along with the ICBF and Teagasc, will host information meetings around the country beginning next Monday night October 12 at 8pm in the Gleneagle Hotel Killarney.

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