Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Shake-up urged for the SCWS

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Major changes to the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme (SCWS) are included in a comprehensive review of the programme.

The proposed changes could result in farmers being asked to supply a host of additional details when registering calves.

The value-for-money review concludes that the SCWS is too complex and should not be continued in its current format.

However, it adds that the scheme should not be axed altogether. The 118-page assessment notes that the scheme requires up to 25 separate transactions per animal.

As a result, it proposes that major changes to the operation of the scheme should be considered. The review lists a range of new options designed to ensure that the gains made under the scheme can be "consolidated".

However, it also proposes that measures now well established under the current scheme no longer receive public funding.

It states that there are signs that some of the welfare practices promoted within the SCWS would continue on most farms even in the absence of a scheme. The authors also estimate that up to 30pc of farmers were implementing elements of the scheme before they ever joined the SCWS.

Crucially, the review suggests that some of the existing measures covered by the SCWS become mandatory. Sources close to the steering group that conducted the review indicated that sire and calving details would be targets for inclusion in the statutory calf registration process, similar to a system already in force in Denmark.

Also Read

But welfare measures such as de-budding and castration have also been highlighted in the report as potential issues for inclusion in a statutory regime.

Mandatory participation in beef discussion groups is also touted as an option for a future scheme.

The review also highlights what it calls the disproportionate cost of administrating the scheme, which it blames on the complexity of its design. Department of Agriculture personnel charged with administering the scheme admit that there are up to 25 separate transactions per tag resulting in 60 potential errors on each individual animal application.

This resulted in €18m of the €138m fund being spent on administration, which the report says is out of kilter when compared to other farm schemes. However, the review acknowledges that the SCWS has contributed to better weanling prices and an improved reputation for Irish beef.

The report also states that the scheme has met its objectives in terms of improving animal welfare, collecting breeding data and boosting the competitiveness of the Irish beef sector.

The SCWS, which is costing nearly €33m a year to operate, will be under the microscope as Farm Minister Simon Coveney looks for ways to cut another €140m from the Department's spending for 2013.

One of the options put forward to make the scheme more cost effective includes switching to an annual herd payment instead of payments based on animal data in three different forms at different stages of the year.

The report also refers to the possibility of restarting the scheme as a coupled payment funded by the CAP.

Indo Farming