The €80 per cow rate currently guaranteed by the Suckler Welfare Scheme must be maintained by the Department of Agriculture this year and beyond, according to Waterford IFA Chairman Michael Keane.

Mr Keane said that the new scheme has proven a “major success” to date, with its future viability now dependant upon the €80 payment remaining in place.

“Minister [Brendan] Smith has been very strong in stating that €250m funding for the scheme negotiated under the Partnership Agreement is available and this will be honored in full,” said Mr Keane last week.

“At this stage, Minister Smith should make it clear that the payment rate will remain at €80 per cow for 2009.”

Meanwhile, the IFA’s National Livestock Committee Chair Michael Doran described current cattle supplies at factories as “very tight”, with feeders holding out for a base price of €3.14 per kilogramme.

Many cattle being killed in the early part of the week are being bought at the aforementioned price, with some contract prices at “significantly higher levels” according to Mr Doran.

He added that attempts by the factories to pull back cattle prices would “bankrupt winter finishers” and “put a halt to farmers feeding cattle” during the spring.

“This is a crucial period as the action of factories on prices will determine what farmers will do in terms of feeding or storing for the spring,” he said. “Farmers are not going to finish cattle for the factories at a loss.”