Absence of joined-up thinking has hurt our beef industry and left it battling a serious decline
Joined-up thinking is a cliche but the lack of joined-up thinking best describes the blunders perpetuated against the Irish beef industry. Primarily these misdeeds are down to Government and the Department of Agriculture. I tell you why.
Last week Teagasc organised a 'state of the industry' beef event in Kilkenny. The conference-cum-beef demo was highly topical, well-organised and addressed by good speakers. In short, Teagasc was doing its level best to address and arrest an industry in decline.
Despite this being a busy time on farms, the conference was well attended. The degree of the Irish beef decline was outlined by Dr Andrew Cromie from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF). This custodian of calf birth data told of the massive shrinkage in the Irish suckler herd.
Between 2007/8 and 2009/10 beef cow calvings fell by 123,565 from 1,009, 212 to 885,647. The ICBF data shows the decline continuing in spring 2011.
"More worryingly," added Cromie, "is the drop in beef heifer calvings, down 9.3pc/yr and the increase in beef cows being culled, up 13pc/yr."
If the exodus continues at this rate the entire beef herd will vanish by 2024.
All of this was predictable from the Government/Department decision to decouple (abolish) the suckler cow premium in 2005. Keeping a suckler cow on arable land without subsidy incentive was always problematic. The subsidy incentive drove the suckler herd from under 500,000 in the mid-1980s to over 1.2 million in 2005. Its removal can undo all that progress.
The surprise is that so many beef farmers continue to stay the course and subsidise production with their single farm payment (SFP). New 2010 profit-monitored farm figures given at the Kilkenny event showed that, on average, 13pc of the SFP was used to subsidise the enterprise. In Andrew Cromie's own field of cattle breeding, Trojan efforts are made to identify top bloodlines and fit out all cattle with eurostars for genetic potential. Yet, because the Department refuses to include the sire identity on the cattle passport, this breeding info is lost where the bulk of cattle are traded anonymously.