Beef sector needs a new Land Commission
An article by Mike Brady which appeared in a recent Farming Independent got me thinking about the Irish beef industry. Before we commence, it can be quite easy to dismiss any ideas I might have on the beef industry as I'm coming from a tillage perspective, but I think the problems the industry have are obvious, even to us non-beef people.
Mike equated the losses incurred on a 40ha beef farm with the annual subscription for golf club membership and pay per view TV. That in itself is not a problem - everyone needs a poison and if someone wants to lose money on beef production, that's his or her prerogative.
The problem is that this is not the case of a few individuals looking for a good form of stress relief; it's the basis for a sector that is the largest indigenous industry we have in the country.
If you want to see how the beef industry in Ireland operates, go to any rural town between school pick up time on a Friday until just before The Voice begins on Sunday evening.
Between these times, the roads are chock full of jeeps and trailers moving cattle around from one small parcel to another. What's happening is that the part-time farmers are away all week making a living, but spend all weekend moving cattle and catching up on their farm work in order to get ready for the next week.
The cause of this flurry of agricultural production during the snatched weekend hours is scale. The reason these part-time farmers spend such vast amounts of time moving the cattle from one small holding to another is to do with land structure in Ireland.
The work carried out in the late 19th to the mid 20th century under the various Land Acts and through the Land Commission, has indentured a land structure that, while completely appropriate for a past era, is now completely inappropriate for the current agricultural production system.
The land was initially made available to the grandfathers of our part-time farmers. This land passed to the fathers, who were able to squeeze a living from the same land bank, perhaps adding some innovation and maybe some extra land as it came available.