Top suckler farmer calls for targeted cull of dairy bull calves

More European support is needed for low-income sectors such as suckler farming, argues

Derek Deane
Derek Deane
The Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot will target the weaning efficiency of suckler cows and calves.

Derek Deane

As a suckler beef farmer, I wish to respond to some of the points made by Darragh McCullough and Pat McCormack in articles published recently (October 2) in the Farming Independent.

The CAP promises a fair standard of living for all farmers, not just dairy farmers.

The expansion of dairying has flooded the EU with poor-quality product which has depressed the price for beef farmers.

A lot of extra dairy cows were slaughtered this year because of drought and went straight from the parlour to the factory with some of them being refused because they were emaciated.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack argues that there is "no logic" for additional suckler supports; Darragh McCullough suggests that dairy farmers should have access to beef farmers' lands and sheds to facilitate dairy expansion.

I strongly disagree with both arguments. Instead, I believe we need a 'Herod scheme' to address the issue of unwanted dairy calves of poor quality.

The dairy sector does not have the right to drive on with increased emissions at the expense of our suckler herd.

A beef-bred calf is far more efficient in converting grass and concentrates to beef than their dairy counterparts. These are the animals we need to access the best markets in the world.

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The CAP must be used to target Pillar I direct support to the low-income sectors as dairy farmers had an average income in 2017 of €70,000.

I would now question the merit of paying supports to large dairy units that have formed companies and no longer represent the family farm.

Dairying has a great competitive advantage in terms of global competition. In contrast, suckler farming here cannot compete with Brazilian ranches or American feedlots. Every time Brussels offers more access to our markets, the more our income is undermined. This is why we must target support to the sector.

The current crisis in suckler farming is unprecedented. There has been a 30pc drop in cow numbers in less than 20 years, and since the lifting of milk quotas this decline appears to be accelerating.

In last week's budget, the Minister allocated €20m for a new beef scheme and €100m to forestry. Is there a message in this?

I believe that the Beef Forum has only proved to be a talking shop with no steps taken to improve the lot of the beef farmer. We are constantly told that we need to be more efficient as the solution for our income. One of most efficient suckler farms in Ireland, the Newford Farm in Co Galway, cannot make a profit without direct support even though it has access to the best management and new technology.

Four steps are required to save the suckler sector:

* A substantial direct support from Pillar I of €250 per cow;

* The grid needs to be reviewed and we should have a differential of at least 12c and probably higher to encourage producers to produce to the market requirements;

* A marketing strategy for suckled beef to return a premium to producers and to create a product that would be sought after globally. We are only talking of 0.25 million tonnes of produce on global markets;

* Processors must learn to work with larger carcasses from the suckler herd to help retain viability.

As a beef farmer, I would like to be allowed to make a fair income from beef production. Dairy farmers should concentrate on getting their income from milk production.

The review of the CAP must target extra support to the low-income sectors as this is the fundamental basis of the EU to ensure that all farmers make a fair income.

I will continue in suckler beef production and will fight for our rights for a fair income.

Finally, I welcome MEP Seán Kelly's campaign in Europe for support in the CAP for suckler farmers and I think he must also include breeding ewes as these breeders of both beef cattle and sheep are the cornerstone of these industries in Ireland.

Derek Deane farms in Co Carlow and is a former IFA livestock chairman

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