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Monday 5 December 2016

New beef breeding scheme is 'unworkable' claim farmers

Pressure grows for suspension of €52m Beef Data Genomics Programme

Published 20/05/2015 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil's Marc McSharry. Photo: Damien Eagers.
Fianna Fáil's Marc McSharry. Photo: Damien Eagers.

DEMANDS for a revamped Beef Data Genomics Programme (BDGP) are growing following a well-attended meeting of concerned farmers over the weekend.

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The €52m BDGP initiative, which was only launched in the last fortnight, has generated a storm of criticism from suckler farmers who claim that the requirement to stay in the scheme for a minimum of six years and use of four- or five-star rated bulls are unworkable.

At least 200 farmers attended an IFA meeting in Carrick-on-Shannon on Friday night to voice their frustrations with the scheme's rules.

Fianna Fáil's Marc McSharry told the meeting that his party was calling for an immediate suspension of the May 29 deadline to allow a full review and consultation with "real" suckler farmers

"I'm sure the scheme works in the offices of the ICBF, the Department [of Agriculture] or the EU Commission, but it is impossible in terms of practical application. It is unworkable, discriminatory and will lead to more of a maternal than terminal herd, which could well lead to poorer quality beef," he claimed.

Galway TD Éamon Ó Cuiv described the scheme as the "most bureaucratic and unworkable ever announced by the Department of Agriculture".

He claimed that farmers would be short-changed by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney's promises of Pillar Two payments if the scheme was not radically revised.

"If the minister does not change the scheme there will be a very low take up. We now have a mishmash of schemes which have high compliance costs and are full of red tape," he said.

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However, Department of Agriculture figures show that over 1,000 farmers had applied to the scheme during the first five days that it was open.

"This shows that beef farmers have decided that engagement with the scheme represents good business planning," claimed the Minister.

The six-year commitment means that farmers can plan for the future "in the knowledge that there is a reliable payment for the next six years", he added.

ICBF CEO, Sean Coughlan, added that a lot of fears of farmers were rooted in the fact that many did not know the current star ratings of their animals.

"The fact is that 75pc of the herds that participated in the genomics scheme last year already have a four- or five-star bull. So there's going to be no shortage of suitable stock at farm level," he said.

Suitability

However, the ICSA said that there is a severe lack of suitable AI bulls. They claimed that there are only two Limousin bulls, and no Charolais sires, available through Progressive Genetics and Munster AI that have four- or five-star replacement indexes and a reliability of more than 75pc.

The IFA has demanded that three-star animals should also be eligible and that that the genotyping requirement be reduced from 60pc to 15pc.

"ICBF previously claimed that this level was adequate for an effective suckler genomic programme," said the IFA's Henry Burns.

ICBF estimate that a 20pc increase in the number of four- and five-star bulls is worth €32m per year to farmers through increased output.

Munster AI's Doreen Corridan pointed to the flexibility built into the scheme to help farmers to qualify.

"Replacement heifers only need to hit the target star rating at the time of purchase, genotyping, or by October 2020. That should alleviate concerns about star-ratings falling during an animal's lifetime," she said.

In response to claims that the scheme, and particularly the six-year timeframe, was pandering to the interests of meat processors, the Department of Agriculture said that the initiative was designed to meet environmental objectives at EU level.

"The six-year commitment in the Beef Data Genomics Programme (BDGP) is based on…the Rural Development Regulation, which provides for agri-environment and climate-focussed measures, and was the subject of detailed discussion with the Commission in the RDP [Rural Development Programme] approval process," the Department pointed out.

"The BDGP is designed to reduce the climate change impact of Irish beef by improving the genetics of the Irish suckler herd."

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