More questions than answers on many fronts


In their first issue of the new year, the #Irish Independent #farming pullout carried a wonderful piece by Declan O’Brien recounting the cattle markets in #Dublin of bygone days. From my own perspective, it was a particularly poignant offering as my late grandfather Patsy Geoghegan, other extended family members and indeed a sizable proportion of the population of these parts earned their living droving stock to these sales for the Brutons.

What a task it must have been. Rounding up a herd in the black of night and guiding them – in this case – from the Leixlip area of Co Kildare into near Dublin’s docks. Right, the roads would’ve been almost devoid of traffic but said conveyances required skilled negotiation. As did keeping a bunch of strong beasts under control. Remember, too, that while roads would not have been a fraction as busy as those of today, an amplitude of fields, ditches and hedges presented would be transgressors with a variety of options!

All a world away from farming now. Reminiscing about what were, in their own way, great times, led to an almost inevitable, natural pondering as to what Patsy and men of his ilk would think of the state of Irish farming now, were they not in the holding up above. Similar considerations are often engaged in regarding Gaelic football.

Difference being that while the GAA possesses an uncanny knack of attracting itself towards awkwardness, it generally manages to extricate itself out thereof, whilst only incurring superficial setbacks. On the other hand, such is the squalid mire the IFA has found itself in, it’s hard to know what it’ll take to salvage the Association. Reputational damage caused and disillusionment among members won’t be easily fenced.

Which is a terrible shame, for innumerable reasons. Mostly, though, as there exists an unfair danger of tarring everybody in the IFA with the one brush owing to the extraordinary goings on at possibly the highest level within the group. Already, the heads of Eddie Downey and Pat Smith have rolled and there appears to be considerable acrimony pertaining to the forthcoming elections.

One cannot help feeling that the problems which have been beneath the surface of the governance of Irish farming are not issues which have suddenly germinated on the hitherto present watch. Rather that those most recently left with abdication of their positions as their only outlet were left carrying the can for undesirable practices which predated their assumption of office.

Against that, reform was and is essential. However, while there’s never a good time to have a crisis, these rumblings could hardly have emerged at a worse time. Nearly every sector of agriculture appears to have potential minefields close to hand. There’s obviously discord within pig farming, while grain yields were well up, prices went drastically the other way. Elsewhere, for the dairy sector, 40c/l remains the promised land. Returns quoted to me most recently were coming in at 24/26c/l. And that’s the top end of the market.

Naturally, though, closer to home, main concerns revolve around the beef sector. Admittedly, having not yet held onto stock until they were factory fit, only a loose grasp is held of the issues causing most rancour among beef finishers – carcase weight and age limits and the seemingly volatile changeable nature of the broader carcase specifications being sought by processors.

It may, however, be time to become au fait with such things. The vibrant weanling and store trade has been a boon for those offloading in those categories. Conversely, it has created considerable conundrums for those trying to restock with animals coming from those areas. And, as with the ongoing difficulties relating to the administration of farming, it’s very much a case of more questions than answers.

Temptation is to switch to a calf-to-beef system. Stock purchase prices would be considerably lower and – with calves being bought in numbers which suit the system size-wise, it could be the most efficient means yet of herd expansion and consequently maximising profitability. Then again, there are two sides to every story.

For instance, if calves were being purchased in batches of, say, four or five, it wouldn’t take long for considerable herd growth to manifest itself. It would also result in cattle being retained for between 18 and 20 months, in comparison to the current operation whereby they are gone to the mart in six to nine months.

That means a recalibration of the available grazing platform, which in turn necessitates decisions pertinent to whether winter feed is produced on farm or bought in. It of course also means increased feed bills – even allowing for the ability to make hay or take a cut of silage without buying in. Balancing such concerns, though, is a realisation that, with an inflated weanling market, finishing may still offer the best route to maintaining profitability.

But then, the future direction of agriculture in Ireland itself will hinge on decisions taken over the forthcoming period. Interesting times ahead on many fronts.


Leave a Reply