Two suckler destocking schemes were recommended in the final Food Vision beef and sheep group report.
While one scheme, the voluntary extensification scheme, would only require suckler farmers to cut down their cow numbers, the voluntary diversification scheme is aimed at incentivising farmers to get rid of their entire suckler herd.
Here's what we know about the exit scheme at this stage.
What would be involved?
Farmers who enter this proposed scheme would remove all suckler cows from the farm.
These cannot be replaced by any breeding ruminant, which rules out any dairy cows.
Will all suckler farmers have to take part?
No, the scheme is recommended to be a completely voluntary scheme.
Would I have to get out of sucklers forever?
The Food Vision report suggests that farmers who take part would cease to keep any breeding stock - but only for the agreed minimum number of years. That appears to leave the door open to getting back into suckling if the farmer wished, when the scheme contract ends.
Would I have to stop farming completely if I signed up?
No. You could diversify into other systems - such as drystock finishing, sheep or non-livestock enterprises such as tillage.
However, you are barred from keeping breeding cattle while in the scheme. You could not calve any breeding ruminants or register births on AIMS.
What’s the payment on offer?
There are no farmer payment details outlined in the Food Vision report. It only says the scheme should have “an appropriate incentive” in the form of an annual payment per cow.
The only figure that is mentioned is what the group calls the “indicative income foregone per suckler cow removed”, which it put at €1,080 for farms exiting.
However, the report stresses that the figure is “an estimate only, not a recommendation” and it says that the level of public funding for any scheme would be a matter for further consideration.
The farm organisations (the IFA, the ICMSA, the ICSA, the INHFA and Macra) were all adamant that they could not support the final report until they see a concrete commitment for State funding to support the measures.
How long is the scheme for?
This has not been set out in the Food Vision report.
Could I get out of suckler cows and, if the farm was transferred to my successor, could they get back into sucklers?
No, the proposal is that the scheme would be linked to both the herd and the farm holding.
It specifically states: “A farmer could not opt for the scheme and remove all their breeding ruminants and then transfer the holding during the contract and for the transferee to start a breeding ruminant enterprise on that holding.”
However, the scheme would keep the door open for you and/or your successor to get out of suckler cows and take up any farming enterprise that does not involve breeding ruminants. So the draft report suggests that your or your successor could go into drystock finishing, sheep or tillage, for example.
Why would the Department of Agriculture and the Government want to cull sucklers?
It’s all linked to the Government’s legal obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The sectoral target for agriculture is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. That equates to 5.75Mt CO2 equivalent (eq) by 2030.
This proposed scheme would, according to the Food Vision report, cut emissions by an estimated 0.6Mt CO2 eq per 100,000 suckler cows (and followers) removed through the scheme.