Beef breeders and ICBF set for public showdown

Charolais Society will outline 'serious concerns' for suckler farming to Oireachtas committee

Cashel Mart manager Alison de Vere Hunt
Cashel Mart manager Alison de Vere Hunt

Martin Ryan

Beef breeders and the ICBF are set for a very public clash today on the value of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP), and the operation of the Euro-Star system of measuring animal breeding merit.

An Irish Charolais Cattle Society delegation will outline its "serious concern" for the survival of suckler farming in a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, which is expected to be extremely critical of the BDGP and the Euro-Star rankings system.

But the performance of both the BDGP and the Euro-Star rankings will be defended by ICBF.

Issues to be raised by the Charolais delegation will include:

A perceived deterioration in the quality of beef animals, inconsistency of the Euro-Star rankings;

The alleged negative impact on the environment of poorer quality lighter carcases in beef production;

The use of crossbred bulls.

The balance of representation on the ICBF board and allegations of communication difficulties between breeders and the ICBF are also likely to feature.

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The Charolais delegation will be led by Kevin Maguire, society president, and will include a number of suckler farmers, as well as Alison De Vere Hunt, manager of Cashel Mart.

Kilkenny farmer Christy Comerford will claim that the BDGP is damaging the beef sector by doing away with traditional suckler cows.

Meanwhile, Ms De Vere Hunt will outline how the quality of beef animals coming into the marts had declined sharply because of the increased influence of the more profitable dairy sector.

She will also tell the committee the reasons for a noticeable trend among suckler farmers to ignore the Euro-Star ratings when purchasing breeding stock.

However, the ICBF is expected to strongly defend its record on beef breeding.

"The actual data from the beef sector provides irrefutable evidence that our beef breeding programmes are delivering improvements to the national suckler herd," the ICBF told the Farming Independent.

Prime beef

"There has been a steady increase in the terminal (slaughter value) index, which has risen by approximately €70 per animal slaughtered over the last 15 years.

"Reflecting this across the one million prime beef animals slaughtered annually in Ireland, it represents a gain of almost €580m to beef farmers and the wider beef industry," the ICBF claimed.

The breeding body contended that the BDGP was also delivering for suckler farmers.

"After years of negative trends, the replacement index (maternal trait) of the beef suckler herd has now turned around and is growing at some €7 a year. This is a direct consequence of the impact of the BDGP, with its focus on maternal traits," the ICBF said.

"The impact of this scheme has been profound, with average calves/cow/year having increased from 0.79 calves/cow/year in 2014 to 0.85 for 2017, with consequential gains in sustainability and carbon efficiency of the national suckler herd," it added.

Statistics from the Department of Agriculture recently revealed a major swing away from sucklers in the southeast since 2010.

The cumulative suckler herd in Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and Kilkenny declined by almost 25,000 head, while overall, some decline has been experienced in 21 counties between 2010 and 2017.

The decline in suckler cow numbers in traditional beef counties in the west, however, has been far slower than that seen in the southeast.

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