Troubled times for sucklers

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s fingers are crossed. He hopes to support productive farmers as the new CAP takes shape.

Suckler farmers are a particular concern.

They have an important role in the beef industry, but depend on CAP payments for income.

Even with these payments, they earn the lowest-per-hectare income of all farm enterprises, averaging just €326.

For many of them, the sale of a weanling fails to cover the cost of keeping a suckler cow, plus weanling to ten months, recently calculated at €741, on average.

Suckler farmers have lost at least €20 per cow with the ending of the suckler-cow welfare scheme.

They have undergone one of their worst years, due to bad weather, all of which explains the latest figures from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation.

They confirmed that 7.4% fewer suckler cows calved this year, up to Jun 30.

Suckler cow slaughtering was up 18%, and when you add the steep rise in on-farm deaths, 90,029 cows left the suckler herd this spring, 29% more than in the same period last year.

Mart managers reported suckler cull-cow sales up by more than 20% this spring, representing additional reduction in the herd.

Hopefully, the decimation of the Northern Ireland suckler herd won’t be repeated down south.

They had 332,645 sucklers in 1998; last December, the herd had shrank 17%, to 275,673.

South of the border, despite record beef prices, a year of bad weather was a last straw for many suckler farmers.

Possibly the last straw for more suckler farmers is now appearing, in the shape of hundreds of euro wiped off cattle values, due to processors cutting beef prices.

Suckler farmers who were banking on high weanling prices to cover their increased 2013 costs, and keep them in the game, have seen prices fall behind last year’s levels.

Then again, maybe they cannot afford to get out, because the record beef-cow prices available earlier have dried up.

But, if trouble comes in threes, these farmers will fear a CAP outcome that knocks them back even further.

It looks like all single farm payments in 2015 will be at best only 92% of the 2012 value — before they are increased or reduced further, depending on whether they have been getting above or below the average payment per hectare. If they lose 8% of their 2012 payment value, the most fortunate (because their per-acre payment is so far short of the average) will see what is left increase nearly six-fold. But the least fortunate will see an additional 30% cut of their payment.

The most fortunate will gain €100m per year at the expense of the least fortunate, because the EU demands that all payments be moved closer to the average by 2019.

However, nearly the same amount (€97m) could be available as a coupled payment for vulnerable sectors. Does the beef industry need some of that to be reserved for suckler farmers?

That is one of the big Irish CAP questions.

The problem is that it can only come from other farmers’ payments.


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