The following Farming Frontline article has been written by Farmer1:
The BDGP scheme has had a mixed reception from farmers since its introduction in 2015.
Based on official figures, 30,000 farmers have joined the scheme. This is approximately 40% of farmers engaged in suckling.
The main focus of criticism has been an understandable scepticism that the scheme will achieve its stated objectives, in particular transforming suckling into a viable and profitable business.
To the ordinary farmer, other stated objectives like greenhouse gas targets and carbon navigation are difficult and nebulous concepts. It would be a tough job to convince most farmers of the benefits of either.
Indeed as we say goodbye to 2016 some imminent scientists, particularly in the U.S., are voicing serious criticisms of the entire climate change agenda. Undaunted official Ireland has committed to internationally agreed targets notwithstanding the growing scepticism.
Qualifying for payments is not too difficult with most farmers already complying with some of the scheme’s requirements. Surveys, genotyping, and carbon navigation are admittedly newer concepts for most but help is readily available.
As touched on earlier, farmers have identified key areas of concern.
How will the scheme contribute to making suckling a commercially viable enterprise? Will we see the advent of calves that grow faster, convert feed better and ultimately are worth more money than the cattle we currently hold? Are these cattle going to make €4.40/kg, the generally accepted price deemed necessary for an economic return?
Participation in the scheme lasts six years. That’s a long time wherein numerous things can change. We have seen the Brexit vote in the UK and consequently our biggest beef market will not be in the EU by 2019. It’s possible that the UK may agree trade deals with powerful beef producers like Mercosur post-EU-exit, leaving our beef producers in a very vulnerable position.
Concerns around paperwork, bureaucracy and inspections have resulted in many farmers not joining. Drawing on previous experiences of inspections for single payment and cross compliance schemes undoubtedly terminated the interest of many.
The genetic merit of the participating herds must demonstrate continuous improvement over the term of the scheme. This will culminate in 4* and 5* cows and bulls dominating the herd by June 2019.
For foundation stock, Teagasc are recommending first-cross heifers from dairy herds. Undoubtedly these heifers will be superior in milk production but deficiencies may exist around their beef merit. Conformation, ease of finishing and meat yield would all be potentially negative factors using dairy cross stock. The genetic merit of many dairy herd stock bulls would also be questionable.
A more fundamental issue is what I would describe as market signals. Processors are clearly favouring smaller traditional beef breeds like Angus and Hereford over continental breeds. This is evident from pricing and procurement practises. Retailers want steaks that fit on their styrofoam trays thus eliminating costs and facilitating easier stock control.
With the current massive expansion in dairying, more Angus and Hereford stock are available and mostly conform to market requirements for an R3 animal. Dairy farmers will be concerned about the price of milk but their offshoot beef production will determine the price of beef. For specialist beef producers, most of whom are involved in the BDGP scheme, that price will not mean viability.
Having visited a number of Belgian beef farms in the past it was common to hear the Belgians decry the standard of Irish butchery. In fact, they believed we didn’t have a clue how to maximise the value of cuts from high-muscled animals. If true, we are minimising the potential return on these cattle.
I support the BDGP scheme for a number of reasons. All our competitors have embarked on similar initiatives. Indeed the script of the Scottish scheme is almost verbatim the Irish one. The key objective to make suckler farming commercial and viable is laudable. The economic benefits for mostly marginal and poorer agricultural regions are obvious.
How can we guarantee this will happen?
I return to my Belgian friends. They are paid for the beef yield of their animals. The more beef the greater the price. High value cuts are exactly that, high value.
When are the farm organisations here going to insist that farmers are paid on meat yield like on the continent?
Were that to happen, the emphasis on breeding and superior genetics would begin to be rewarded.
Involvement in the BDGP scheme would then have tangible benefits for farmers.
Written by Farmer1