Beef industry in danger of stifling its own potential

Occasionally, dreams do come true. Earlier this year, it did for yours truly. Having been raised in and around farming – between there being cattle at home in years gone by and my brother working in farming for a long time – agriculture has always been one of the great loves in my life. Preceded only, maybe, by sport. Due to personal circumstances, though, it was always felt that, apart from harbouring ambitions – which still abide – to write about farming matters on a broader scale, the nearest yours truly would actually get to being a farmer was observing neighbouring farmers at silage or the harvest or making hay on a certain bit of land close to home.

John Bryan, IFA President
All that changed earlier this year when the opportunity presented itself to rekindle the family tradition in beef farming after a lapse of 28 years. Indeed, back in the day, my grandparents would’ve had dairy and beef and poultry and pigs. So getting going again – so to speak – would’ve been very much a dream come true.
Now, you might think that the role somebody in a wheelchair could play in farming would be very limited. Indeed, that farming would be of interest at all baffles many. Very quickly, mind you, it became apparent with the way farming is today, all sorts of skill sets are needed. That said, nothing compares to being out on the land among the cattle.
To facilitate getting out on the land as much as possible, things have to be done slightly different from on other farms. Pathways around sheds and the entrances to fields and the like tend to be smoother than would be the norm. Gate latches at lower, accessible levels as well.
It dictates farm policy in other ways too. While this year cattle were bought in two batches – in early July and late August – ideally I’d like to work to a system whereby stock come in during late spring or early summer and are moved on before the worst of the winter weather hits. That said, fluidity in planning is an absolute necessity in farming, so we’ll see!
In recent months, the point has been made to me several times that “You must feel like you’re living the dream” – and it certainly does feel that way. Equally as often, however, the question arises – is it not more a nightmare than dream?
Such a view wouldn’t be hard to arrive at. While price increases and expansion in the anticipation of the abolition of quotas have been the dominant trends of late in the dairy sector, for beef producers the scales have tilted the other way. In fact, if present trends continue, the beef industry is in danger of stifling its’ own potential.
At a time when major players in the industry are adding to their already powerful artillery and gaining new markets to explore, offering farmers anything under €4/kg for produce is not acceptable. Nor is it financially viable. Several sections of the beef industry would want to improve the returns they give to farmers. In fact one such outlet – outside of which IFA President John Bryan recently led a protest – would do well to pay heed to their own advertising punch-line!
It must be acknowledged, of course, that certain factors play a part in market fluctuation. Mostly supply and demand. This is the time of year when many farmers move stock on – either finishing them for the factory or selling them on as forward stores. Naturally, increased supply will drop prices. There must, however, be a level of fairness applied. Nobody can afford to run a business at a loss.
Frankly, beef producers will have to explore other avenues as, currently, it simply wouldn’t pay to send cattle to the factories. The issue requires immediate intervention from the highest level because the present situation simply isn’t sustainable. The price difference between what farmers here and in the UK are being paid for beef is outrageous.
Minister Coveney recently stated his aim to explore up to fifteen new export markets for Irish beef. This is to be very much welcomed. However, it must also be ensured that beef production for the home market remains a viable proposition. Irish agricultural produce is renowned as some of the best in the world, but, surely it’s a minimum requirement that it must be worth a farmer’s while to engage in that production.

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