'There will always be beef farming but the future is in quality, not quantity'
Storm Powell travelled to Kilcullen Mart last week to hear farmers' views on Mercosur, the Beef Plan protest and the future of farming.
Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare
George, who has been farming all his life, has a 200ac sheep and tillage enterprise at Grangebeg. "The Mercosur deal is ridiculous. We're tagging and testing and abiding by so many regulations and there are far less restrictions on beef coming from South America."
George can see no future in farming and regards it as an expensive hobby. "The game is at an end," he says. "The Government is not doing enough to help us.
"Young lads will not remain in farming. I don't know the future of my land. We'll have to wait and see."
Monasterevin, Co Kildare
Philomena (74) has a 40ac suckler farm in Ballagh, which she farms with her husband Martin.
"If I was younger, I would have gone to the protest. Beef farmers have to fight for their entitlements. The present Government is not doing enough."
On Mercosur beef, Philomena asks: "Do we know the quality of this meat? Is it traceable? Are prohibited substances used?"
Philomena worries about the beef farming sector in five years' time. "I can see farmers renting out their land. The small man will be gone.
"Younger farmers will seek off-farm jobs to ensure a guaranteed income. I love farming but there's not a whole lot of money in it."
Athy, Co Kildare
Area manager and auctioneer at Kilcullen Mart, John is also a dry-stock farmer in Kilrush.
Due to work commitments, John was unable to attend the Beef Plan protest, but he says he "would have liked to have been there".
"Beef prices are in free-fall. The uncertainty of Brexit is having a huge impact. Farmers are in a depressed mood and unsure of what's down the road."
John sees a diminishing of the suckler chain. "This will affect the quality of cattle in years to come. So will the older age profile of farmers. We must entice young people into beef farming.
"The Mercosur beef will flood the market. Who will ensure that it is limited to 99,000 tonnes? It does not look like a good deal and is adding to the uncertainty of Brexit."
Looking to the future, John can see increased leasing of lands by smaller farmers.
Newbridge, Co Kildare
Now semi-retired, Ger Smith (72) from Clownings was national livestock chairman with the IFA from 1988 to 1992. He is also chairman of Leinster Marts. Although he has personally stepped back from active campaigning for farmers, he applauds the Beef Plan Movement for highlighting the concerns of beef farmers.
"I worry about the lack of preparation for a Brexit crash-out situation. The Mercosur deal is an added threat. Our markets will be decreased and additional imports will exaggerate an over-supply and cause depressed prices. Also, markets are volatile in South America and I wouldn't like to be depending on them for EU exports."
On the future of beef, Ger says: "There will always be a demand for high quality beef, but we need the UK as well as EU to achieve a balanced market for our produce. The full-time professional beef farmer is becoming a scarce commodity.
"Beef farmers are increasingly contracted to rear dairy heifers or produce feed for dairy herds. We are going to have to find outlets for our dairy beef."
Summerhill, Co Meath
Jim is a dry stock farmer on 80ac in Moynalvey and is also a cattle agent. Though he was unable to attend the Beef Plan protest, he appreciates the importance of highlighting the plight of the beef farmer.
"The country as a whole doesn't realise the economic challenges of the present day farm family. Farming is a business and if young people can't make a decent living from the land, what is its future?
"The beef man is dying out. Will feed lots be the future? Years ago, selling a couple of bullocks would pay the farm debts for the year. This is no longer the case."
Straffan Co Kildare
A retired builder, Michael has a 65ac dry-stock farm in Baybush.
On the Mercosur deal, he says: "The EU is oversupplied with beef at present. It will deflate prices, but there are hoops to go through before implementation and things could change a lot."
Michael regards his farming as a hobby. "It provides a healthy lifestyle and keeps me busy," he says. "But it's too expensive to change to another enterprise.
"Farmers will always be involved in beef, but the future of beef farming is in quality, not quantity."
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