Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has confirmed that plans for suckler cull schemes will not be progressed further at this time, while leaving the door open for further discussion around a dairy exit scheme.
peaking at the IFA’s climate summit in Thomond Park last week, Minister McConalogue said the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group “were clear” in their rejection of a suckler cull, while the Dairy Group yielded “a number of different perspectives” in support of a voluntary dairy reduction.
“There hasn’t been a growth in emissions from the beef sector in recent times. The very strong view from the farm organisations and the meat factories is that it is important that we don’t seek to bring about an incentivised reduction,” Minister McConalogue said.
Chair of the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group, Professor Thia Hennessy, was also present in Thomond Park last week to respond to farmers’ concerns.
“With the current technologies available at the moment, it would be an enormous challenge to reach the target at current cow numbers, so that’s why we included those [reduction schemes] as potential options,” Professor Hennessy said.
“We are seeing a natural reduction in suckler cow numbers over the last number of years, at an average of about 3pc per year.
“If that trend was to continue naturally, rather than being incentivised, that could also contribute significantly to the target.”
Teagasc Director Dr Frank O’Mara highlighted that Irish agriculture doesn’t currently have the technologies needed in order to achieve a 25pc reduction in emissions by 2030.
“We’re talking about taking 25pc of the carbon out of a food production system that’s already fairly carbon efficient. It’s not as if we have a lot of low-hanging fruit,” he said.
During the Q&A session in Thomond Park, IFA Munster Regional Chair Harold Kingston asked Minister McConalogue if “the Department has decided it is unnecessary to pay farmers to reduce animal numbers because it’s actually cheaper to do it using the Nitrates [Directive]?”.
Minister McConalogue responded that he is “open to different ideas,” and the Department decided against a suckler reduction on the basis of feedback from stakeholders.
Mr Kingston told the Farming Independent: “The Department has looked at what it would cost to reduce cow numbers and suddenly realised they can’t afford it.
“In the past, the Nitrates Directive has been used as a vehicle to lower ammonia emissions. I’m worried that the same vehicle will be used now to reduce cow numbers.
“There’s scope for a scheme for farmers who want to move away from farming, in a case such as no successor has been identified.
“If there can be a scheme that allows farmers to become financially better off and better for the environment, then great, it makes absolute sense. A scheme that is aimed at reducing cow numbers in isolation would not work.”
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