After decades of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supporting intensive farming systems, it appears that at long last the “chickens have come home to roost”.
After continually being forced and coerced by EU farm policies to produce more and more product, it’s farmers who now find themselves accused of being one of the main causes of global warming.
Over the years there have been a lot of injustices inflicted on farmers by the EU, beginning with the Mansholt Plan. Since then ongoing EU rationalisation efforts have seen thousands of small farmers forced to seek off-farm employment in order to simply survive.
Many other farmers, particularly in the drystock sector, did manage to ‘hang in there’ by making huge personal and financial sacrifices, in the hope of remaining viable. However, these are the farmers who are now having their the EU supports cut in order to compensate their comrades who suffered from these rationalisation policies.
Now, we all know that there are two main groups of people involved in the world of food — consumers and producers.
However, it appears that something has gone seriously wrong. While it appears that farmers/producers are now facing the imminent prospect of being put out of business, consumers continue to grow increasingly unhealthy and obese from gorging themselves on our cheap food.
So, of course we need change! Radical efforts must be made to improve the way we approach food consumption as well as production. I was therefore very interested to read recent suggestions that EU consumers should pay more for their food in the form of a carbon tax.
Consumers already pay carbon tax on the fuel they use, so why not a carbon tax on this vital commodity they currently buy so cheaply?
The monies collected from this tax could then be focused on feeding marginalised groups and supporting farmers’ efforts to use more natural and sustainable food production systems — surely a
Meanwhile, many splits and divisions are currently appearing in Irish farming, judging by Professor Gerry Boyle’s recent robust experiences at the hands of some farming representatives.
The bottom line is that if suckler farming is to survive, we must first accept the harsh reality that after decades of subsidies and support, suckler farming still remains the most uneconomic and lowest earning enterprises in our already low-income cattle sector.
Firstly, I believe we should dispense with high-maintenance continental breeds and replace them with traditional beef breeds.
After all, most cattle farmers in the US and Canada see little need for these expensive continental breeds of cattle.
If this change were to happen, very quickly our beautiful west of Ireland landscapes would start to regain a far more traditional and authentic appearance.
This would certainly benefit tourism in these areas.
Also the reduction in the amount of fertiliser and feed needed to maintain these much “hardier” and quicker “finishing” animals would see biodiversity rapidly improve, with the added benefit of reducing harmful methane emissions.
Most importantly of all, with most suckler farmers now obliged to work full-time off-farm, labour requirements on these farms would also be dramatically reduced.
I hope that Professor Boyle’s comments regarding dairy beef will also generate a serious debate.
The importance of such a debate was brought home to me recently when out buying replacement store cattle.
One could not but be impressed by the large number of very good Friesian store cattle on show.
Many of these Friesians weighed up to 500kg with some realising well over €1,000 in the sales ring.
When these cattle are sold as finished beef animals next year, there will be nothing ‘inferior’’ about the prices they will make.
Professor Boyle’s critics apparently prefer to forget that the Friesian cows who produced these €1,000 stores do not rely on their calves to pay for their upkeep.
Neither will their calves bear the sole responsibility for their mothers’ greenhouse-gas emissions.
I believe that simple and constructive actions such as these would set us well on our way to protecting our environment and be far more palatable than measures proposed in the CCAC report.
Meanwhile, in my own ‘black and white’ world all my ‘finished’ cattle are now sold. A cursory look at the factory returns would suggest very little change from last year’s figures. Fat and confirmation scores remain broadly similar with perhaps a slight improvement in carcass weights.
With regard to my replacement store cattle, they are nearly all bought-in at this stage. They appear to be a little taller than last year with buying-in weights slightly up.
Because of this autumn’s good growth and mild conditions, they have done quite well since being purchased and will hopefully be in good order when housed.
I hope to return to these figures next month with a more detailed breakdown of how they performed in comparison to previous years.
John Heney farms in Kilfeackle, Co Tipperary