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Coughlan Launches Suckler Welfare Scheme

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mary Coughlan T.D., today launched the new Animal Welfare Recording and Breeding Scheme for Suckler Herds. It is 100% funded by the Irish Exchequer and is designed to encourage best practice in terms of Animal Welfare for suckler herds and to improve the quality of the beef produced in Ireland. The Minister said, "An annual payment of €80 per cow, (or €82 where the applicant makes the returns on-line) will apply to suckler cows calving from 1 January 2008 onwards". Minister Coughlan added that the scheme will operate for a five-year period from the January 2008 until the December 2012. Pre-printed application forms and information packs will issue to all suckler farmers in the coming week. Blank forms will also be available from Department local offices and Teagasc offices.

Minister Coughlan referred to the fact that Ireland's Suckler Herd is the source of our high quality beef, which is very important to both the rural economy and the economy in general. "Increased welfare standards will add to the high quality reputation of our beef sector, which must have as its focus the requirements of the consumer."

Continuing, the Minister said "Ireland is a food trading country, and our beef industry which has a self-sufficiency of 820%, serves a huge number of customers throughout Europe and the world, with the value of exports of both beef and live animals in 2006 totalling over €1.9 billion. Over 90% of Irish beef is now exported to high value EU markets."

The Minister added that in developing this scheme she was delivering on a key element of the Agri-Vision 2015 Action Plan and stated, "we have adopted a structured approach to the beef sector, the overall aim of which is to equip it to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities available in the coming years."

Commenting on the purpose of the new scheme, Minister Coughlan said "It is about two things; High Standards of Animal Welfare and Improved Breeding. The emphasis is on doing the basic things correctly". It concentrates on the key events of calving, disbudding, castration and weaning. Farmers who participate in the scheme will be expected to follow best practice at all these stages. They will also be expected to send back information on the key Animal Events. The Minister said that "the ultimate aim must be to produce a weanling that is healthier and of a higher quality standard which will better suit consumer needs and award the farmer producer with premium prices."

Minister Coughlan said that the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) will be responsible for the collection of data and the management of the resulting database. The Department's CMMS database will be used to extract data on animal eligibility. "In the longer term there will be tremendous benefit to Irish beef cattle breeding through the Animal Events System, which will allow suckler farmers to make better and more profitable breeding decisions on their farms. The collection of vital data such as sire details, ease of calving and quality on each suckler calf along with other information available to ICBF from marts and Slaughter Plants will provide greater potential to improve the genetic quality of our beef cattle".

The Minister then focused on the Training and Education element of the scheme, which will be provided by Teagasc. She said "applicants will be required to attend a suitable training course before reaching the end of their second year in the scheme. However, an applicant under 35 years of age on 1 January 2008, and who holds the appropriate qualification will be exempt. The training courses will concentrate on herd welfare, veterinary and breeding issues. She added "I am also arranging a series of public information meetings nationwide starting in early January 2008, and officials will be available to deal first-hand with queries from suckler farmers."

Minister Coughlan stated the closing date for the scheme will be 31 March 2008 and stressed the importance of submitting completed Application Forms before suckler cows start calving in 2008. She added that this fact will be emphasised to potential applicants in the information packs due to issue in the next week. She added that it is planned to commence full payments for the scheme in September 2008, and to continue to roll out payments thereafter on a monthly basis as additional animals become eligible over the lifetime of the scheme.

Concluding, Minister Coughlan stated "I am confident the scheme will be a success, and will contribute over the next five years and beyond to the continued improvement in the quality of Irish beef, so vital if we are to improve our share of the lucrative European market. This in turn will lead to more suckler farmers reaping the price benefit for this quality."

14 December, 2007

Date Released: 14 December 2007