Eamon Corley, Beef Plan suckler beef committee, outlines the format the group believes the next suckler scheme takes.
Beef Plan is looking for significant steps to be taken before its suckler farmers are asked to commit to another 5-year suckler scheme.
It believes that two elements are important.
The first part is a significant subsidy that addresses the extra costs involved in suckling. They feel that this subsidy needs to be in the region of €300.
The second part is that they feel that it will be just as important that the new scheme delivers extra output from the suckler cow and delivers a scheme that suckler farmers can have confidence in.
Beef Plan feels these steps are necessary because a significant portion of the CAP money, initially earmarked to subsidise cheap food for the European consumer, is now being redirected into a new suckler scheme. It is now more important than ever to get it right.
Independently verify star-ratings
The first step that is needed is for the star-rating system to be independently verified.
Up to this point, the only validation that has taken place has been by ICBF or, to a lesser extent, by Teagasc.
Teagasc cannot be considered independent, given the amount of joint research they carry out with ICBF. Also, the body was heavily involved in the design of the breeding indices.
Shake-up in traits and board
Another step that is needed is the revamping of the board of ICBF.
An overwhelming majority of members, who have a bias towards the dairy industry, currently control the board.
When this board is entrusted with devising and implementing a star-rating system for suckler cows, it is very important that the dairy sector does not unduly influence it.
For this reason, it is important that the board that is given responsibility for this task be made up of a majority of members from a suckler beef origin.
The Beef Plan Movement would like to see a big shakeup in what traits are used and the % importance allocated to different traits in any new star rating system.
For example, ease of fleshing should would deliver significant savings in terms of the quantity of costly concentrates consumed.
There should also be more emphasis placed on better conformation, growth rates and feed conversion rates.
Beef Plan feels there is very little place for dairy genetics in suckler animals. While we agree that milk is important, more than enough milk is available in suckler-bred animals that also carry good conformation, growth, and feed conversion traits.
Another trait that should be measured differently is meat-eating quality. A larger quantity of marbling and meat that is less dense are both considered advantageous as regards taste.
Both these traits are measurable and should be considered as a percentage of the index.
Australian meat tasting model
Also, we should consider the Australian model as regards meat taste where a random panel of consumers do a blind taste test in preference to the Irish system where a specialised panel, who would have a more refined taste preferences than the general public, conduct the test.
A new suckler support scheme is vital, but star ratings must be independently verified.
One of the biggest areas of complaint that farmers had dating back to the beef protests was how the star-rating system had damaged their suckler cow herd.
It will be important that a new star-rating system is seen to improve beef genetics and profitability from the suckler herd.
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