The thorny issue of direct subsidies was the hot topic of debate at this week’s Beef Expo 2008 pre-event conference, with speakers divided over whether direct support payments to suckler herds were required to maintain productions levels.

Brian Pack, chief executive of the ANM Group, told delegates the Scottish suckler herd would continue to diminish unless there was some form of direct payment to farmers to maintain herd size.

“It is vital that Scottish Government is creative and comes up with a scheme that will enable SFP money to be redirected to support suckler production. Given that many of the larger SFP payments in Scotland have a base in beef production, would it not be more sense to couple part of these payments rather than cap them?”

Mr Pack said for the payment to make any difference to farmers decision making processes it would need to be at least £100 a cow.

Payment

Support for his argument came from QMS chairman Donald Biggar who agreed that under Section 68 of CAP government should be able to find a way to administer some form of payment. “An element of support is essential to keep cow numbers where they are and maintain a critical mass in the industry.

“The CAP health check allows current coupled payments to continue, but doesn’t seem to allow new ones to be introduced, so the government will have to find a creative way to make the payments. It may have to be related to carbon footprints and climate change, but some payment will have to be made.”

Meanwhile, Mike Tempest of Northern Ireland’s Livestock and Meat Commission said it was essential not to re-couple payments. “I don’t object to payments where there is no return for the goods provided from the market place. That is what we have at the moment in the SFP, but a return to a headage-type coupled payment is not an option I support.”