A further 8,600 beef farmers must hand back BEAM payments

The farmers are predicted to miss the minimum 4% reduction and therefore face full recoupment of their payment
A further 8,600 beef farmers must hand back BEAM payments

Almost 19,000 farmers have met the original scheme requirements successfully, by reducing production of bovine livestock manure nitrogen on their holdings by 5%. Picture: iStock

Another 8,600 beef farmers are on course to join the 3,600 who will have to hand back payments from the Beef Emergency Aid Measure (BEAM) scheme.

The €77m payment scheme required participating farmers to reduce by 5% their bovine organic nitrogen produced on the farm, over two years.

To help beef farmers get through the difficulties of 2019, the BEAM scheme was secured by the government, with €50m of the €77m funding coming from the EU. Participating farmers were paid up-front in 2019, but the European Commission insisted they had to reduce their stocking rate, expressed as bovine organic nitrogen, as one of the scheme's terms and conditions.

Almost 19,000 farmers have met the original scheme requirements successfully, by reducing production of bovine livestock manure nitrogen on their holdings by 5% in the year to June 30, 2021, compared with the year to June 30, 2019.

But 3,600 failed to meet the nitrogen obligations they signed up to under the scheme. They included 2,396 who increased their nitrogen (stocking rate) during the reduction period.

The 3,600 will have some or all of the BEAM money they received in 2019 recouped. Their total liability is €5.2m. Among the 3,600, almost 10% of cases involve less than €200 being clawed back, and almost a quarter involve less than €400.

Flexibility was secured in January, 2021, from the European Commission, allowing participants opt for a six months delayed nitrogen reduction period (the 2021 calendar year), and 16,000 farmers availed of that flexibility.

Of the 16,000, almost 5,300 participants successfully exited the scheme by meeting the scheme conditions in the original reduction period which ended on June 30, 2021.

This left approximately 10,700 BEAM participants using the later reduction period. These participants continue to receive a monthly letter from the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (as all participants did since February, 2021) outlining the amount of nitrates they have already accumulated, the amount of nitrates they have left to ensure they meet the 5% reduction, and a projection based on the livestock numbers on their holdings of their final nitrates position at the end of the reduction period.

Last week, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said in the Dáil the most recent analysis by the Department suggested only about 1,700 of the remaining 10,700 BEAM participants are on track to meet the 5% nitrates reduction requirement.

A further 300 were on course for a nitrates reduction of between 4% and 5%, in which event part of their payment will be recouped.

But about 8,600 were predicted to miss the minimum 4% reduction, and therefore face full recoupment of their BEAM payment.

Within the 8,600, in about 7,400 of the herds, bovine nitrates have increased over the reduction period compared to the reference period.

Minister McConalogue encouraged all participants to take timely action to meet the commitments they signed up to, before the extended finish date of December 31.

Responding in the Dáil to Cavan-Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy, he said farmers could have met the 5% nitrates reduction requirement through a variety of means, including selling cattle, selling cattle earlier than they might typically do, buying in cattle later, and/or buying in younger cattle than they might normally do.

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