Beef: hobby farming in disguise?
The hard evidence suggests that the majority of beef farmers are in it purely for the love of cattle and the love of the land
There is no money in beef is a refrain we have been listening to from farmers, advisors, academics and industry commentators for the last 30 years. Long gone are the legendary tales from the 1960s and 70s of beef farmers buying farms of land from profits made after a few years trading and fattening cattle.
Today we see images of beef farmers on our TV news warming their hands on fires in barrels while picketing outside meat factories, protesting about the price of cattle.
However, we rarely see lots of beef farms advertised for sale or beef farmers forced off their land due to non-payment of bank debts, so what is the reality? Are beef farmers really losing money or is it just the 'poor mouth'?
There are a number of places to look for evidence of beef farm profitability starting with the National Farm Survey, eProfit monitor - both produced by Teagasc - and, of course, the hard evidence in beef farmers' financial accounts.
The most reliable source is possibly the Teagasc National Farm Survey where the full farm financial accounts of approximately 350 beef farmers are analysed annually to arrive at a net profit figure.
The beef farmers are divided into Cattle Rearing, ie. the suckler farmers and the Cattle Other which captures all the trading and fattening enterprises.
In the table below, a 40-hectare beef farmer made on average an annual net profit, including direct payments, of €13,840 between 2011 and 2014.