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Farming columnist with The Clare Echo, Joe Melody says all farming representative bodies need to unite in opposition to the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme.

The Chinese New Year starts in February but on ours and many other grass based farms the grazing year starts in August.

That statement might at first make little sense but the month of August is when we start to build grass so as to extend our cows grazing season into late autumn and dare I say it winter. From now on it is our imperative to build enough grass on farms but not too much as in that case autumnal graze outs could be poor and this will leave a patchy sward for spring 2022 and reduce the amount of grass available to freshly calved cows.

August is also harvest on tillage farms across the country, granted these type of farms are few and far between in Co. Clare but as a dairy farmer it can be a great month for harvesting milk solids as cows are still milking decent output but their butterfat and protein is on the up.

The Department of Agriculture has outlined the details of its proposed Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme and rather than this being a vehicle to drive progress in the Suckling industry, it is in effect a modern day Suckler cow quota. The scheme will prevent participants from increasing their suckler cow numbers over the duration of their contract with the scheme. This scheme is taking up where the BDGP and BEEP schemes left off.

In my experience neither of those schemes did much to progress the suckler farmer’s lot, rather they enrolled him in further form filling, and pushed him down a route of breeding by numbers in mandating him to use certain bulls with high star ratings. These breeding strategies only served in many cases to dilute the quality of our national suckler herd.

In Ireland our average suckler cow herd is 17 cows, in many cases there would be scope to expand and improve efficiencies to allow for a better return on these herds. However this scheme has shut the door to any increased productivity by capping of cow numbers. Our national suckler herd cannot be the sacrificial lamb for climate mitigation. These type of schemes deflate the industry and lower expectations as to where the suckler industry can go. Sometimes when stagnation is mandated it actually leads to the receding of cow numbers.

We need only look to the dairy industry and see what decades of milk quotas did to the energy and direction of that sector. I remember in the noughties, the farming papers often carried stories of how such a farmer had left dairying and went into some diversification whether it be keeping ostriches or growing pumpkins. The farmer would usually cite the cost of purchasing milk quota as the last straw that dissuaded them from expanding. This had a knock on effect as it was clear to the next generation there was no part to play for them on the farm.

All farm representative bodies need now to unite and vehemently oppose this regressive scheme. Our elected representatives would do well to remember that Ireland is a small open economy and we cannot afford to put a key sector of our economy under a policy induced anaesthesia.

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