Beef: Worry as EU moves TB goalposts

IFA President Eddie Downey speaks to beef farmers taking part in an IFA protest at the Kepak processing plant in Clonee Co Meath recently. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke.
IFA President Eddie Downey speaks to beef farmers taking part in an IFA protest at the Kepak processing plant in Clonee Co Meath recently. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke.

John Heney

Trying to make a profit from beef this year has been, to say the least, very difficult. So when I got a phone call informing me that as one of my cattle had shown lesions at the factory and that my farm was being "locked up" it certainly didn't help the situation.

As my cattle have always gone for slaughter, it has until now been possible for me to get a permit to buy-in store cattle if my herd was restricted.

This allowed me to continue my practise of replacing cattle once a load had gone to the factory

However, in its wisdom the EU has decided that this concession is being withdrawn. For me this change has very serious consequences, as replacing my cattle as soon as they are sold is a critically important part of my farming system.

Thankfully, what appeared to be developing into a very difficult situation was diffused when I was allowed to bring forward a herd test so that if my cattle went clear I could then apply for a permit to buy-in.

Fortunately, I had a clear test, so after a two-week break I was allowed to buy-in cattle again. I must now, however, wait for the result from the lab to see if the lesion tests positive or negative.

I shudder to think of the consequences if I did have a reactor as it would have literally put me out of business at the most important time of the year for me.

I find it very difficult to understand why farmers are singled out for such high-handed treatment. Imagine what would happen if someone in the public service found their office locked when they went to work one morning with a note pinned to the door saying, "sorry someone in Europe has just changed the rules".

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With just two loads of cattle left to sell a clearer picture is emerging of how the year has gone. Grades continue to disappoint and, unfortunately, up until now the much publicised substantial rise in prices flagged at the Ploughing Championships in September has turned out to be little more than a damp squib.

I suppose the most puzzling aspect of the cattle trade this autumn has been the strength of the store trade. This of course is most welcome for our 'undersiege' store producers but has added in no small way to the problems being experienced by finishers. Hopefully the optimism which is driving this trade is realised when the time comes to sell these cattle. If it doesn't the consequences don't really bear thinking about.

On the positive side, the inevitable return of our Irish rain last month and the continuing mild temperatures provided ideal conditions for spreading the remainder of last year's slurry.

This has provided a welcomed boost to fields which I hope to use for my first-cut silage next year.

The continuing benign weather has also meant that cattle remain very happy grazing-off the remaining grass left after our marvellous summer and the store cattle which I have bought in so far are also doing well.

Recently I visited Johnstown Castle to look at some of the trials which they are carrying out on 'Weanling to Beef Steers'. While the work being done on early-finishing dairy offspring such as Angus and Hereford dairy crosses was very interesting. However, it was the group of year-and-a-half Friesian cattle which I really wanted to see. This group of bullocks weighed 505kg and were being fed 5kg of meal per day for their last 60 days before being slaughtered off grass.

It was hoped that they would get into about 550kg live weight and perhaps kill out at 280kg. I am really looking forward to seeing the results of how they get on.

Judging from recent developments, relations between factories and farmers are at an all-time low.

Totally unsupported claims by a beef factory manager in the south that "massive returns" can be made by beef farmers willing to look at their businesses differently does little to help.

I also find claims by representatives of the meat industry of a 40pc rise in the price paid to farmers over the last four years to be most disingenuous and indeed quite insulting. These claims totally ignore the fact that we are getting far less for our cattle now than we did in the 1980s.

John Heney is a grass-to-beef finisher farming at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary.

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