Reality bites in more ways than one  

Certain happenings during the busiest months of the current farming year re-enforced belief in the old maxim that one never should say never. What the developments in question also did was again underscore the role which farming and agri-business can play – and are doing – in whatever semblance of economic recovery is manifesting itself.

The irony is, for all the positivity that will understandably have pulsed through the veins of the Ploughing Championships in Co Laois, the aforementioned commodity is one which many farmers across varying sectors will feel devoid of at present. For fear of having the ‘vested interest’ card thrown on the table, it must be said that, as well as beef producers, those in sheep, milk and cereals will also be wary at present.

There can be little doubt Irish farming – and the spinoff businesses which arise from same – works well. Whether in the guise of the country’s success at the World Ploughing Championships via Eamonn Treacy and John Whelan, product manufacturers such as Keenan and Dairymaster, or the manner in which Irish cheese has found its way into the Italian pizza market and pigmeat has attained an outlet in Vietnam.

Yet, maybe this week more than any other, reality bites in more ways than one. From a personal perspective, limitations are magnified. Numerous appreciated offers of lifts to the Ploughing Championships crop up every year. However, about as much value would be obtained from being in situ as would be got from trying to locate airborne sliotars.

On another level, though, amidst all the brightness that’ll have reverberated around the midlands sits the reality that beef farmers are in no way getting a fair crack of the whip and are therefore struggling to deliver a margin. Change of farming systems has often been commented on here in a general sense, but, it may actually require exploration close to home also.

The ‘never say never’ element has become relevant in many ways, you see. Often the point was made that keeping heifers wasn’t really an option given the systems and structures that are in place. Well, bringing a 500kg steer to the mart, to be met with only one bid that would make the eyes water due to its paltriness, would make anybody think twice.

At this stage, preference would be leaning towards trying to finish the bullock in question. Go forth towards the factory and even further into the lap of the Gods do you stride, admittedly. But, there’s no rush to dismiss the idea entirely without at least having given it a go. After all, if that was the attitude, things wouldn’t even be in the circumstances they currently are.

Going the finishing route poses questions, mind you. If finishing for the factory was one’s avenue of choice, that would still appear doable with male stock. What it would mean, though, would be going away from a policy of buying in weanlings and plumping for slightly bigger cattle.

Finishing cattle directly for the butcher market presents a different scenario, however. ‘Butcher’s heifers’ is obviously a phrase coined with good reason. Indeed, it’s a market with plenty of appeal to it. Stock would go to slaughter much quicker, and thus cheaper, and certain breeds would assume greater prominence than others.

Two thoughts run most vividly – never say never, but at the same time, a realisation that market demand and trends will ultimately shape policy.

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