Sustainable Suckler sector must not be sacrificed in drive to deliver on climate targets says Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association

As the Minister and Government prepare to announce details on how agriculture will meet the 25% reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) are adamant that our suckler sector must not be undermined.

Speaking on this for the first time since the association were mandated by their members to withdraw support for the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group, National President Vincent Roddy stated how “our suckler sector is not the problem when it comes to GHG emissions and pointed to the fact that the sector has seen a reduction of 18% over the last ten years,”

“In our engagement In the Food Vision Group we outlined on a number of occasions our opposition to specific proposals most notably proposals around a voluntary reduction/exit scheme and proposals to reduce the age of first calving and slaughter age to 24 months” , said Roddy.

As previously outlined all of these proposals he added “will undermine the sector by imposing unrealistic targets and creating reputational damage to the marketing of naturally reared suckler beef both in Europe and beyond.”

However, we are, he continued, “well aware of Government policy relating to our Climate Change targets and ongoing concerns around biodiversity loss and water quality. All of these are factors that must be considered in future plans around farming practices. In addition to these we must also consider socio-economic factors and their impact across our communities.”

With regard to our suckler farmers the INHFA President pointed to the many positive attributes associated with suckler farming as practised across Ireland. Suckler farming is, he stressed “by-in large extensive and positive in terms of delivering on biodiversity and on climate change concerns.”

In addition to this it is, he added “providing a vital economic contribution in many areas and communities where farming is the most important economic driver and where other farming systems are not possible.” All of these facts must, he continued “be considered and before anyone looks to drive further reductions in our suckler herd, it may be more advisable to address issues pertaining to what is a small cohort of farmers (predominantly dairy) that are operating multi-platform units with excessively high stocking rates.”

While recognising that it is difficult for any farmer to make major adjustments it is he maintained “vital that if there is an issue in a particular area or sector then that is where the action must be targeted. This shouldn’t be anything new and is something that hill farmers on commonage lands were required to do twenty years ago.” Here Roddy highlighted that “when the DAFM introduced a 30% compulsory cull of sheep across all commonage hill sheep farms due to a breach of the European Habitats Directive – the problem was dealt with within the hill sheep sector.”

In concluding he outlined how our suckler farmers and indeed many other farmers across all sectors of agriculture cannot be expected to pay for the sins of a small number. It is, he stated “time to address the issue on those farms that have a per hectare bovine stocking density above what is legally allowed, through a planned approach over the next two years.”