Analysis: The real exodus from suckler farming could start when Genomics Scheme ends
At first glance, the latest data on the suckler herd presents a picture of a remarkably resilient sector where numbers have only slipped by an annual average of less than 1pc since 2010.
But it's probably the Beef Data Genomics Programme (BDGP) scheme that's holding off a bigger exodus from the loss-making suckler sector.
The BDGP has tied in approximately 28,000 farmers until 2020 in order to qualify for their annual slice of the scheme's €50m. It has effectively locked 580,000 cows into the sector for six years starting from 2015.
It's difficult to see the full effect of this scheme on trends because the data only goes to 2017, but it is noticeable that if we strip the 580,000 cows out of the figures for the last three years' data, we see the biggest annual fall happening in the most recent year.
While a 5pc fall in numbers in any single year may not be calamitous for the sector, it's likely that this is the thin end of the wedge.
A lot of beef farmers tell me they are just hanging on until the BDGP ends.
And if the anger at the Beef Plan Group meetings over the star system that now rates the breeding worth of beef animals is anything to go by, beef men can't get away from the scheme and it's genomic algorithms fast enough.
The prospect of a double-digit percentage drop in suckler numbers in the few years after the BDGP ends must be a serious worry for beef processors that rely on the bucolic images of sucklers grazing in the Irish countryside to market their product.