Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Beef Data Programme
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for accepting the matter. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris. My matter relates specifically to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and while I accept it is not within the Minister of State's area of responsibility, I appreciate him coming to give a response. The matter relates to the beef genomics scheme on which I have consulted with suckler farmers throughout most of the north west of the country. The scheme is turning out to be totally unworkable and its implementation threatens the quality of weanling beef output in the north west. I can only provide examples from counties that are close to mine. In Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim some 12,800 farmers were eligible to apply for the scheme but fewer than 5,500 have applied.
The cost of the scheme is €52 million. It was designed to assist farmers but, in effect, the science behind it will adversely impact on the type of weanling that is being produced by farmers throughout the north west. Times are very difficult for farmers in the north west. We have smaller holdings, longer winters and land that is of a lesser quality to other parts of the country but yet have been renowned for breeding the highest quality stock for export and processing for many years.
The Minister of State might be aware, but the Minister will certainly be aware, that in recent weeks farmers are being informed about the grading of the cows. They are finding that the cows that are producing the highest possible quality of weanling are being given a grading of two stars. If the scheme works in the way the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, the IFA at a senior level and the Department seem to want it to work, we are going to end up with a much more maternal-focused herd rather than a paternal one. We need a healthy mix. In the first instance the scheme does not help the small farmers of the north west and the other parts of the country and does not serve to increase the quality of the type of output from the north west, which is already renowned as producing the finest store cattle and replacement cattle in Ireland. Something must be done in that regard.
A total of €8 million of the €52 million will go not to farmers but to the genomics testing. One wonders what the ultimate contribution will be. The Minister of State may know, but the Minister, Deputy Coveney, certainly knows, the money is derived from Pillar 2, in terms of funding under the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. There may have been a big uptake on the scheme generally as there are very large dairy and suckler farmers in the south of the country but it is not working in the north west. It would be much better for the 12,800 eligible farmers in the north west where testing costs approximately €1,000, if that money were made available through the payment to areas of natural constraint, what is traditionally known as the disadvantaged area scheme payment, which was substantially reduced. It was originally introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s to keep people on the land and to ensure the continuation of production. Production has been of the highest quality in the north west in terms of weanling production. Some 40% of the country’s entire output of young calves comes from the area and that is now under threat. The scheme is unworkable and is costing money. It is not serving the purpose we need it to serve. I appeal to the Minister of State to impress upon the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to undertake a full review of the scheme at least in the north west where it is not working.While I appreciate that it is not the Minister of State's line and while I appreciate him being here on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, it would be remiss of me not to mention while he is here that the announced scheme for villages and towns is a very sad indictment of any Government, particularly this one. It is less than €190,000 per county, per year over six years. Every Government over the past 30 years has been guilty of not adequately resourcing our regions and rural areas to enable them to reach their potential. If any Government is committed to doing that, it needs to think in terms of billions over a six-year period to strategically target resources for the regions to empower them to reach their potential. I hope the Minister of State will take that on board.
First and foremost is the necessary review of the beef genomics scheme. There is €52 million there that I do not believe is going to serve an adequate purpose. It should be diverted, as I have suggested, to the areas of natural constraint or what would have been known as the disadvantaged area payment.