Entrants to the new Beef Data and Genomics Programme will be free to subsequently withdraw once they get back data on their own herd, said Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.
With just 12,600 applications filed to date of the 35,000 entrants anticipated, the minister hopes there is still time to quell suckler farmers’ concerns about the scheme before this Friday’s deadline.
He told potential applicants there would be time to withdraw from the scheme without penalty after the submission of applications. Farmers’ concerns relate to being tied into a six-year contract, and to penalties for their herds falling short of the scheme’s quality targets. Replacing existing cattle with four-star and five-star animals is central to the programme’s strategy to improve the Irish herd.
“ICBF will be in a position to provide data to farmers on where they stand in relation to the genetic index, and at that point farmers will be able to make a more informed decision on whether to remain in the programme,” said Mr Coveney.
“I am confident the vast majority of applicants will be greatly reassured by the data they receive from ICBF, but if their applications are not received by May 29, they will not have the option to join the programme this year, or receive payments.”
These reassurances have come in response to IFA and ICSA concerns over asking farmers to sign a six-year contract which would effectively tie them into beef farming, even if they were making a loss, having agreed to repay any grant supports received should they choose to withdraw mid-contract.
After a meeting with the IFA last week, Mr Coveney committed to a mid-term review of the scheme, saying that any aspects that proved unworkable would have to be re-negotiated in Brussels and changed.
IFA president Eddie Downey said the minister accepted that there are a significant number of difficult technical issues under the scheme that must be addressed, including accepting four-star and five-star calves and weanlings to meet the replacement requirements and committed the department to continuing to work with the IFA to try and resolve these issues for farmers.
All parties hope to ensure that under-pressure beef farmers access the maximum possible of the €50m set aside each year, totalling €300m over the scheme’s term.
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