Farmers will need compensation to cull suckler herd, warns ICSA

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Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Suckler farmers will need a compensation scheme lasting five or more years if a structured reduction in the beef cow herd is to be achieved, the ICSA has insisted.

Alternative enterprises must also be identified for those farmers who choose to get out of beef production.

The call for a "framed" herd reduction policy was made by ICSA suckler chair John Halley, who was reacting to a recent report from the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) advocating a massive cull in the national beef herd.

"If the Government want people to get out of suckler farming there must be policies and strategies in place to facilitate that; something we don't have at present," Mr Halley said.

The ICSA has proposed a €200/hd payment per suckler cow, per year for a period of five years as an incentive package to reduce suckler numbers.

Mr Halley added that entry into the scheme would be on a strictly voluntary basis.

The scheme would be based on a reference year of 2018, and the payment would be linked to the reduction in calves registered relative to 2018.

The ICSA has suggested that this exit package, or Suckler Redirection Scheme, should be available on an EU-wide basis.

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"This (strategy) also involves pushing for innovative policies around generating an income from alternative sources," Mr Halley explained.

"The renewable energy sector does offer promise, but we are nowhere near the stage of this being a realistic option for most.

"This Suckler Redirection Scheme must now be given serious consideration. At present we have an oversupply of beef in Europe which has not been caused by the suckler herd.

"Rather, this is down to the dramatic increase in the dairy herd and it has compounded the complete lack of profitability in the suckler sector.

"When you add to this the pressures of climate change mitigation, there is the possibility that alternative income sources could have an appeal.

"However, the need for a holistic approach to viable alternatives is apparent."

Dairy expansion

Mr Halley stressed the importance of the voluntary nature of any such scheme.

He said that suckler farmers would not be "used as scapegoats" to balance the books of uncontrolled dairy expansion.

Pointing out that the only way to deliver farm viability in the beef sector was through scarcity of supply, Mr Halley said the ICSA proposal highlighted the "hypocrisy" of the Food Wise 2025 expansion targets by exposing the "consensus that farmers should be satisfied with just breaking even". If such an initiative was adopted in Ireland to reduce the beef herd by 500,000 cows, an annual budget of €100m would be required, or €500m over the proposed five-year term.

However, Ireland could face annual fines of up to €200m because of its failure to meet ­internationally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Mr Halley insisted that funding for the suckler scheme would need to come from additional sources outside of CAP.

"If CAP funds are redirected [for this scheme] it means that farmers are paying for climate change," he pointed out.

The ICSA representative urged other farm organisations to "address the profitability question above all other considerations" when assessing the proposal.

"There is not a 'one size fits all' solution to this issue and careless and sweeping statements when speaking about wiping out farmers and their livelihoods is most counterproductive," he said.

"A rounded approach would also have to include retraining for those wishing to take part in the scheme. It should also include the option to switch to organic systems for others.

"And, significantly, it should involve an acceptance that covering vast tracts of land in and around rural communities with forestry is not the optimal approach."

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