A limit to the national herd has not been ruled out by the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalgue.
In a live and exclusive interview with the Irish Farmers Journal on Tuesday evening, Minister McConalgue said the national herd will have to stabilise to ensure Ireland and the farm sector comply with stringent carbon-emission reduction targets.
However, in a positive development for the industry, the minister insisted he would not accept carbon reduction targets for agriculture that necessitated a mandatory reduction in beef and dairy cow numbers.
Minister McConalgue said Ireland must have the capacity “to continue to produce food”, but this has to be balanced by the need for agriculture to reduce its carbon footprint.
“We have to stabilise the national herd to do this,” the minister insisted.
Asked if the Government would take action to enforce such a limit on cattle numbers, the minister did not rule out the imposition of a national cap.
Questioned about the effectiveness of such local limits to tackle a global problem, Minister McConalogue rejected the suggestion that Ireland was effectively sacrificing the suckler and dairy sectors to meet a national target.
However, he contended that Ireland had to comply with its international obligations to protect its “sustainability credentials” and the access to premium markets for the country’s food exports that this delivered.
“We do not really have a choice,” Minister McConalogue admitted.
Teagasc director comments
The minister disagreed with suggestions by the outgoing Teagasc director, Prof Gerry Boyle, that the future of the Irish beef sector would be primarily in the finishing of beef stock from the dairy herd.
He said sucker farmers played a “massive part” in the Irish beef industry and would continue to do so into the future, although he appeared to downplay the likelihood of a coupled beef cow payment in the CAP.
However, while Minister McConalogue expressed his “absolute commitment” to suckler farmers, he said farmers had choices and that the industry had “to be open to the opportunities” that dairy beef offered.
Tellingly, he expressed some disappointment with the dairy sector that the needs of beef farmers in terms of progeny type was not being recognised by enough milk suppliers.
In terms of CAP, Minister McConalogue pointed to the Government’s work in lobbying to protect the overall agricultural budget in Brussels.
He also defended his department’s position on convergence, claiming that it was not “a black and white issue”.
He predicted that the eco-scheme element of the CAP proposals could help offset some of the impact of convergence and the eco-scheme actions would be designed in a manner that made them accessible for most farmers.
Asked if the Department of Agriculture had completed modelling on the total value of Pillar I funding that is likely to leave the beef sector as a result of the proposed CAP changes, Minister McConalogue committed to making this information available to farmers.
Meanwhile, the minister accepted that some tillage farmers will also face significant cuts to their Pillar I payments but he pointed to GLAS and the Straw Incorporation Scheme as evidence of his department’s commitment to the sector.
Moreover, he hinted that the Straw Incorporation Scheme could be rolled over next year.
In other issues covered during the interview, the minister again apologised for the manner in which the clawback in BEAM funding was handled by his department.
He admitted to being “very annoyed” with the manner in which his department had dealt with the matter, saying that it was “certainly not acceptable”.
The minister said the communication with farmers around the issue was poor and he reiterated that a letter of apology would be issued to all affected BEAM scheme members.
On the Nitrates Action Programme proposals, he said he was “open to looking at a solution” on the suggested changes to the spreading dates.
With regard to forestry, Minister McConalogue admitted that the delays in the issuing of licences has not “been not been good enough”.
However, he claimed that the Department had “put massive resources” into tackling the problem and was making “good progress” towards sorting out the issues.