Recent data from the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Identification and Movement database for 2013 confirmed that the suckler herd is in decline.

The data showed that registrations of beef calves declined by over 81,000 head (-6.3 per cent) during the first nine months of 2013. While total calf numbers declined by some 55,000, the number of calves born which were bred from dairy sires actually increased by more than 26,000 head (+3.9 per cent).

With a decline to some degree in the suckler herd unquestionable, what action is Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney taking to support this crucial sector?

The minister recently stated: “Recognising the importance of maintaining confidence in a sector that has benefited from historically high price levels in recent years, I recently announced the operational details of an investment package worth up to €40m to beef farmers in 2014.”

This package includes €23m for the Beef Genomics Scheme; €10m for the Beef Data Programme; €5m for the Beef Technology Adoption Programme and €2m in residual payments under the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme.

He noted this investment is a strong vote of confidence in the suckler beef sector. “It exemplifies the smart, green growth initiatives envisioned in the Food Harvest 2020 strategy. It is important to note that this investment in the beef sector is aimed not just at sustaining a critical mass in the suckler cow herd, which is the seed bed of our high quality beef industry, but also at improving efficiency, profitability and viability at farm level,” he added.

The minister was also keen to highlight: “The development of a new RDP for the period 2014-2020 will be a key support in enhancing the competitiveness of the agri-food sector, achieving more sustainable management of natural resources and ensuring a more balanced development of rural areas.”

He said: “My department has published a consultation document outlining proposed measures for inclusion in the new RDP, including a new beef data and genomics measure worth up to €52 million per year. Under the new RDP, beef sucker farmers will be eligible for participation under a range of measures including a substantial new agri-environment/climate scheme (GLAS).

“There will be continued strong support for disadvantaged areas (now Areas of Natural Constraint), to the tune of about €195 million per year. Incentives for on-farm capital investment will include support for the expansion of the dairy sector following the abolition of milk quotas in 2015. There will also be knowledge transfer and innovation measures, aimed at underpinning farm viability, sustainability and growth through the adoption of best practice and innovative solutions.

The minister continued: “A new beef data and genomics measure worth up to €52 million per year aimed at improving the genetic quality of the beef herd. A separate strand of the support for on-farm capital investment will be ring-fenced for young farmers at a higher rate of aid intensity of 60%. Other supports aimed at collaborative farming, artisan producers, organic farming and so on.”

He said “I am confident that this range of measures will, when taken together with other Pillar I direct payments, assist suckler farmers to improve their on farm viability.”