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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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SCEP: Farmers can reduce reference number but cannot increase

Under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s new SCEP – Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme – applicants must calve down at least 50% of what is referred to as their yearly reference number.

The term commonly features throughout the scheme’s terms and conditions – which the DAFM has made available to the public in recent weeks following SCEP’s launch in mid-March 2023.

In the coming weeks, as part of the application process, applicants will, alongside their FAS-approved planner/advisor, in many cases, select their programme reference numbers for the five-year scheme.

It will influence farmers’ payment rates and requirements under the scheme’s main actions, including eligible bull/eligible AI, weight recording, female replacement strategy, genotyping actions, and calving details and surveys for the full duration of the €260m support programme, which is BDGP’s successor.

Selecting your reference number

To begin the process, the DAFM will provide farmers with a summary of the number of eligible suckler cows producing an eligible calf on the holding in 2016-2021 inclusive.

The applicant will be presented with the best three years of 2015-2021 and will receive the average of these three years as their reference number.

The reference number will be divided by 1.5 to give an MPA – maximum payable area.

For example, a farmer with a reference number of 10 will have an MPA of 6.67ha.

The DAFM has outlined in the scheme’s terms and conditions that the applicant must set the programme reference number at the beginning of the scheme.

The applicant can accept the programme reference number that the DAFM presents at the time of their application, or they can opt to reduce it, but they cannot increase it.

For example, if an applicant sets the programme reference number to a reduced amount, he/she can never go above this new reduced programme reference number for the duration of the programme.

The MPA will be reduced accordingly, meaning the farmer’s SCEP payment will be reduced, the DAFM has stressed to farmers.

Farmers should note that there is a difference between a programme reference and yearly reference.

Programme reference, is defined in the terms and conditions, as the reference figure chosen by the applicant to be their reference number for the duration of the programme.

The yearly reference is the reference number declared by the applicant for each scheme year. It cannot exceed their programme reference and cannot be less than 80% of the declared yearly reference from the previous year.


The applicant, however, can reduce the reference number by up to 20% of what the previous year’s reference number was, including year 1 or where the applicant had set the yearly reference number below the programme reference number in year 1, they can go back up to the programme reference number.

In year 1, this will be set at the application stage and from 2024, it must be set in January of each scheme year.

Where a farmer does not want to reduce in a specific year or any year, s/he has to take no action in January.

The DAFM will not accept any amendments to a farmer’s yearly reference number after the submission of the SCEP application in year 1 or after the January deadline in years 2-5.

In the case where an applicant has no data for the years 2016-2020 inclusive or where suckler farmers commenced operations in 2022 or early 2023, the DAFM will regard them as a new entrant and will declare their programme and the yearly reference number at the application stage.

To be eligible for the programme, at least 50% of the yearly reference number calved on the holding must be eligible calves between the scheme year July 1st, 2022 and June 30th, 2023 and every scheme year thereafter.

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