It was eerily akin to being back at school

“Inspection” – It’s up there with words like “examination”, “assessment” and “interview” in terms of provoking trepidation. Think about it, even when it comes to sport, mention of inspections implies, when used in one way, that events may not go ahead. Use of the term at other times, however, leads to the suspicion that all may not be above board. Now read on…

It was said to me some time back that whether a farmer has six cattle or six hundred, it’s a full time job. This point would doubtless be argued by those who have to assume off farm work to supplement their income. However, one doesn’t have to be at it too long to realise that it quickly graduates from side issue or pastime to something much bigger.

Like everything in life, with farming, if you’re going to do it you may as well do it right. What’s the point in going half hearted? You’ll only get out of it what you put in. That said, ways of maximising return on output are always sought. And, without getting above one’s station, one of the simplest ways to increase gains is by having your herd Quality Assured.

Considering that the Bord Bia backed Quality Assurance Scheme is a free initiative to join, surely it’d be a remiss of anyone remotely serious about what they’re doing not to sign up. Yet, it’d be openly admitted that until certain alterations occurred in the production system close to home it was felt joining would be of little benefit thence.

The old tourism punch-line is recalled: “You’ll never know unless you go”. That applied in when it came to changing farm systems and joining the QA scheme. No little apprehension prevailed when it emerged that an inspection was an intrinsic facet of attaining the desired status. In fact, it was eerily akin to being back at school!

Now, while not on the same scale as some of the plainly intrusive, cheap programmes focusing on hoarding that seem the staple diet of certain television channels, yours truly would admit to a penchant for storing reading material and other documentation. Little was it ever thought, mind, that retaining documentation would be of such vital importance as transpired to be the case come inspection time.

Thankfully, all went swimmingly. There was a time when it may not have been that big a deal, but, with the factory scene seemingly continually changing, optional become necessity once the finishing route was embarked upon. It may not have been a bad time for such developments to take place either. It has always been a belief that – to put matters simply – that regardless of expected and wholly normal market fluctuations, butchers will always require meat. Therefore, the heifer finishing avenue was worth exploring.

Indeed, it may now be even broader than that. Most recently, agricultural commentary and media coverage has understandably been dominated by the re-opening of the US market for Irish beef. A breakthrough not to be underestimated. After strenuous work by Simon Coveney and his American counterpart, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and probably countless others.

It would surely be unwise, however, to get carried away with the hype that inevitably accompanies such announcements. For that reason, it was surprising and to be honest disappointing to see IFA President Eddie Downey being so vehemently scornful of Gerald Potterton’s concerns – expressed in one of Gerald’s regular contributions in the Irish Farmers Journal pertaining to the marked increase in the price of weanlings.

Feelings about the beef protests remain mixed here. Undoubtedly they have had an impact, one just wonders why the angst took so long to become so obvious. Granted, an increase in factory prices was necessary and overdue. Furthermore, it goes with saying that increased slaughter prices were going to cause a reaction with weanlings and/or stores.

Downey mounted a strong defence of the suckler sector’s need for strong sale prices – understandable and justified. Surely it cannot, though, arrive at a scenario whereby the viability of certain sectors – winter finishers in this case – is put under severe strain due to buoyancy being experienced elsewhere. Some prices I have heard being quoted lead me to wonder where producers buying in cattle for finishing get any profit at all.

Despite the above misgivings, mind you, the re-opening of the American market has to be a positive. Indeed, close to home, whether it was just down to that or other factors, going forward, a degree of optimism is held. Being something of a history buff, it was intriguing to learn that the first Irish beef exported to the US was actually to their troops whilst based in Europe.

Personally, of more interest was to learn of our customers’ fondness for Hereford steers and heifers. Many will be aware at this stage of my fondness for Herefords – part sentiment, part economics – but learning that there’s a liking on a grander scale for them may vindicate certain business decisions taken a while back. If they want it, we’ll happily give it to them!

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