Photo by Niall Hurson

The Beef Exceptional Aid Measure amounted to €100m and was awarded as a result of market disturbance caused by Brexit, writes Ellen Durkin.

Details of the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) were first announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed on July 29 of this year. The €100m Brexit beef package has been funded by the EU exceptional aid and Exchequer support, provided due to the uncertainty and market volatility arising in the lead up to Brexit. Support will be paid to suckler farmers and those who slaughtered animals in the reference period between 24 September 2018 to week commencing 6 May 2019.

The scheme is targeted at farmers most affected by recent market disturbance and is demand-fed. The voluntary opt-in style system of registration was opened to farmers who met the initial criteria. All participants must be a member of Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme and reduce the amount of bovine livestock manure nitrogen produced by their herd by 5% for a target period from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. In terms of payment, rates of €100 per head and €40 per head will apply for finishers and suckler farmers in the scheme. Finishers were able to apply for a maximum of 100 animals, all of which were to be over 12 months of age when sent for slaughter. Suckler farmers could apply for a maximum of 40 suckler cows which calved in 2018 with a rate of €40 per head to be paid for these animals. Dairy, dealer, and agent cattle herds were not eligible to apply. 

The Department has not proposed a cut in herd size in return for eligibility, but instead encourages farmers to reduce the level of nitrogen produced through cattle manure by 5%. The 5% reduction will be based on a reference period and a target period within 12 months. This effectively translates into a 5% reduction per hectare as on most farms each hectare farmed is directly linked to the number of entitlements under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). Reducing nitrogen output from farms can be achieved by selling cattle off farms at a younger slaughter age. Ultimately, it will be up to individual farmers to decide how to adjust their nitrogen levels. In terms of the final statistic regarding uptake of the scheme by farmers, the total number of applicants deemed eligible across the country was 34,547, with the highest eligibility in Co Galway. The second highest eligibility occurred in Co Cork, with 3,091 applicants accepted.

Of the 34,547 applicants, 9,295 are eligible for a payment on suckler animals only, while 10,245 are eligible for finishing animals.  A further 14,977 mixed enterprise applicants were deemed eligible. The total amount of the fund dedicated to suckler only farms was €6,517,240. Finisher only farms received €32,399,600 while mixed enterprises came in at €39,275,540, amounting to €78,192,380 in total for the scheme. The average payment to be received by farmers under the scheme is €2,265. As it stands, 560 applications are under appeal, according to a spokesperson from the Department of Agriculture.

70,000 beef and suckler farmers were eligible to apply for the scheme when applications opened on July 29. President of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Joe Healy raised questions regarding the Irish Government’s financial commitments under the scheme, commenting “€50 million of the funding came from the EU, with a further €50 million allegedly ‘committed’ by the Irish Government. Real questions now have to be asked as to whether the Government genuinely intended to spend this amount of funding at all.” It has now been confirmed that at least €20m has not been claimed and will be left behind, with further applications likely to be withdrawn due to the nitrogen restriction. Farm representatives have called on Minister to Creed to ensure no part of the fund is returned to Europe.

Calls for an additional scheme have been made with beef farmers predicting an unavoidable market disturbance when Britain finally leaves the EU.