€10m underspend on beef genomics scheme

A suckler cow and its calf
A suckler cow and its calf
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Just 80pc of the €52 million allocated to the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) has been drawn down over the last two years, with the total underspend amounting to around €10 million in 2016 and 2017.

Figures secured by the INIrish Hill & Natura Farmers Association (INNFA) under a Freedom of Information request show that the total spend under the BDGP in 2016 was €42.6 million, while the draw down last year was €42 million.

The INHFA claimed that the level of underspend highlighted the degree of farmer dissatisfaction with the scheme.

The association has called for an immediate and full review of the BDGP, citing the level of underspend as proof that the scheme is not working.

The fact that less than 24,000 of the country's 75,000 suckler farmers, or just one-third, joined that BDGP was a further indictment of the programme, according to Gerry Loftus of INHFA.

"The BDGP is complicated and not delivering the results promised, with the widespread view being that there is little in no difference between offspring of 1-star and 5-star cow when it comes to slaughter," he said.

"Add to this the suggested possibility that the information being provided by farmers in relation to milk yield, docility, maternal instincts and other calculating factors may be influenced by the requirement to have 50pc of stock at 4-star or 5-star ratings by 2020, and you have to question the very foundation of the scheme," Mr Loftus claimed.

"The budget of €52 million for this scheme would be more effective as part of an overall package in delivering a sustainable suckler cow scheme paying up to €4,000 to all farmers, and with a payment model based on the old Sheep Grassland Scheme," the INHFA representative added.

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Farmers have been highly critical of the operation of the BDGP, and the manner in which the ratings for stock have fluctuated. It has been described as over-complicated and excessively bureaucratic.

"Suckler farmers are in dire straits. There is a clear need to get urgent support to all of our 75,000 suckler cow farmers in the form of a simple payment that farmers are not tied into for a number of years," Mr Loftus said.

Farmers in Galway received the largest payout under the BGDP in 2017 with €4.2m, paid to 2,600 stock owners. A total of 1,860 suckler herds in Clare received €3.35m, while €3m was paid to 2,270 farmers in Mayo.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, admitted in the Dáil last week that around 600 farmers in the BGDP will have to buy in suitable heifers this month because their herds do not meet a stipulation in the scheme that requires that 20pc of the herd's females must be classed either 4-star or 5-star before October 31. The farmers involved have been written to by ICBF.

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