Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships in Tullamore this week, IFA National Livestock Chairman Angus Woods said increased direct payments and a strong live export trade are essential to maintain our national suckler cow herd, which he described as the backbone of the €2.5bn Irish beef sector.
He said IFA is pushing for a €50 per head increase in suckler supports and a new dedicated live export unit in the Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia to drive the trade. Angus Woods said IFA is totally opposed to a suckler cow cull scheme that has been advocated by others.
Angus Woods said suckler farmers expect Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to respond to the Brexit and Mercosur challenge on beef in the Budget with an increase in suckler supports. He said IFA has put detailed proposals to Minister Creed and the Department to increase the suckler support by €25m through a €50 per cow bolt-on to the BDGP scheme for animal welfare. He said IFA has already had discussions with the EU Commission on this proposal and they have responded positively to such an initiative.
In addition, Angus Woods said Minister Creed should set up a dedicated live export unit in the Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia to develop and drive the live trade. He said IFA has already proposed that some of the additional €6.5m allocated to Bord Bia should be specifically used for the live trade.
Angus Woods said the €52m Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) secured by IFA was a positive start in terms of supporting the suckler cow herd and IFA is proposing that the level of direct support for the suckler cow herd should be increased to €200 per cow.
The IFA Livestock Leader said our 1 million head suckler cow herd is vital to the beef and livestock sectors, and provides the marketing image on which all our quality beef exports and access to the higher priced retail market outlets are secured. He said the AIMs data and ICBF registration figures show that suckler cow numbers are under real pressure, with numbers down 16,000 head in 2017 on top of falls of 30,000 head in 2016.
He said direct support investment in the suckler cow herd delivers real value for money in rural communities. A study for IFA by UCD Professor of Agricultural Economics Alan Renwick shows that each €1 of support invested in the beef sector, underpins over €4 in output in the Irish economy. At local level, the study showed that the cattle sector is embedded in the local economy, with 80% of cattle output sold in the area and over 90% of inputs sourced in the local area.
Angus Woods pointed out that across Europe, 24 of the 27 member states have used coupled payments to support their beef and livestock sectors, with the majority of funding focused on suckler cow payments. He said Cyprus, Lithuania and Ireland are the only exceptions, with no coupled supports for beef. 42% of all coupled support, amounting to €1.8bn has been targeted at beef by member states, with countries like France providing support of up to €178 per suckler cow.
Angus Woods said a strong live export trade for weanlings is vitally important to support the suckler herd. He said IFA has worked hard on driving the live trade in 2016 and 2017 and secured the opening of the weanling trade to Turkey as well as a major reduction in the costs on calf exports. He said to date this year live exports are up over 50,573 head and it is essential this momentum is maintained for the autumn.
The IFA Livestock leader said with the increase in the dairy cow herd, Minister Creed needs to set a target of 250,000 to 350,000 head of live exports annually. He said a dedicated live export unit should be established in the Department of Agriculture and work alongside a similar unit in Bord Bia to drive the trade and develop new live markets. He said a strong live export trade is vital for both price competition and market outlets.
Angus Woods said IFA has requested Minister Creed undertake a diplomatic visit to Egypt to get the live export trade to this important market moving. He said there are major live export opportunities in Egypt, which Ireland is well placed to supply.