By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

HEIFERS that calve down during their six-month retention periods will not count towards suckler cow premium claims, Brussels has confirmed.

The decision will come as a particular shock to Irish farmers.

They have to include between 15% and 40% dry heifers in their claims for the next two years under the commissions plan to rebalance the beef market.

Irish Farmers Association livestock adviser Kevin Kinsella said this amounted to a 15% production cut.

Suckler cow producers, who would normally serve their replacements in the summer, would have to miss out a season to avoid calving in the January-June application period.

And farmers who already had pregnant heifers in their herds ready to calve next spring would have to buy further replacements to meet the new claim requirements.

IFA livestock chairman Derek Deane said the countrys 80,000 suckler cow producers have been misled by the government and Brussels, having been assured last June that the old definition of a dry heifer would remain.

The IFA is therefore demanding full compensation for the 15% production cut, and has called on farm minister, Joe Walsh, to distribute all Ir8.2m (6.5m) in the national envelope to suckler cow producers.