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Independent.ie

Friday 20 July 2018

Farmer who features in McDonalds ads questions future of beef industry

Eoghan MacConnell

The first Irish farmer to ever feature in a television ad for McDonalds is hopeful his children can one day take over the farm and continue the supplying beef despite threats to the suckler sector.  

Father of four Liam Delaney(40) fronted an advertising campaign which highlighted the use of Quality Assured Irish beef in McDonalds burgers.

His family have been producing beef for generations but Mr Delaney is beginning to worry about the viability of suckler farming in Ireland.   

He has an 80 cow suckler herd and brings all the progeny to beef on the 160 acre farm in Portlaoise, Co Laois, where he also rents a further 50 acres and grows around 70 acres of cereal.

With a passion for farming, he recalled as a child, “from day one I would come home from school and I could’t wait to drop the bag and run out” to the farm. 

Mr Delaney runs the farm with his 70 year-old father Jim who farmed there with his father before that. As the family has supplied Dawn Meats for 30 years, and won Overall Bord Bia Quality Assurance Beef Producer Award in 2006, Mr Delaney was approached and asked would he consider taking part in the McDonalds ad.

“Never before that was there an ad made with an actual farmer,” he explained.  He said “the age profile in beef farmers is not so good, so Dawn Meats approached me and asked was I interested.” 

Having grown up with a love for suckler farming, Mr Delaney is hopeful that his sons James(10) and Harry(8) and daughters Kate(5) and Sadie(1), will share his love of farming and one day take over.

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His wife Brenda works a good distance from the farm and Mr Delaney is thankful that his parents are there to help out with both the child minding and farming, something he says is common on a lot of farms. 

On an average day, Brenda is gone to work by 7.30am and Mr Delaney gets up and with the children, prepares lunches and gets the kids to school before returning to the yard for around 9am, where he joins his father on the farm.

Aside from tending to the suckler herd, Mr Delaney also grows barley, with some being supplied to Heineken through Glanbia.  

Mr Delaney is concerned about the number of major challenges facing the suckler sector at present.

“The beef industry over the years has always been a volatile sort of industry and always had problems along the way but never before with so many things coming at us,” he remarked in relation to Brexit, Mercosur and the renegotiation of CAP. 

Brexit remains a major concern for Mr Delaney, who said “50% of our beef is exported to Britain and that’s our bread and butter.”

He is yet to be convinced that the Chinese or other markets is going compensating for the impact of Brexit but he admitted, “at the end of the day no-one really knows what will happen.” 

He pointed out that beef farmers are 100% reliant on subsidies and are vulnerable to market changes.

“We are completely dependant on the price we get on the day,” he explained. He questioned the practice of processors reducing the prices when supply is high and claimed that wouldn’t be tolerated in dairy.

Mr Delaney also took issue the way the quality assurance schemes is used by factories and said, “if your farm is quality assured everything out of it should be quality assured and get paid on that.”

He said this isn’t happening at the moment and farmers cannot tell whether the animal will qualify until it has been slaughtered. 

Mr Delaney said most suckler farmers prefer a “straight-forward simple lifestyle. None of us want to be millionaires,” Mr Delaney remarked.

However, he has noticed that the age profile of suckler farmers rising and he notices far fewer of his generation in suckler farming now. “I wonder in 20 years time what it’s going to be like,” he commented.  

In terms of the future for the suckler sector with Brexit, Mercosur and CAP, Mr Delaney said ‘there is so much riding on the next couple of months and the next year” that it’s hard to know what the future holds. 

He isn’t ruling out the prospect of changing sector, possibly to dairy because "you have to pay the bills at the end of the day," but says he wants to stay in suckler farming.

“Of course I would like to keep the tradition going but only if it is sustainable,” he remarked. Mr Delaney said “I would like to hand it on in a situation that it would be a viable in the future but with the beef that would be hard to see.”

He sought reassurances on the future of the sector at a Fine Gael Brexit meeting in Laois last week. “We are on a cliff edge at the minute between Brexit, the Mercosur and the CAP, if we don’t get a good deal there,” he told the meeting, whose attendees included Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Fine Gael MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness.  

“It cannot get any worse for us, beef farmers are haemorrhaging every day of the week. They are gone, they are either gone to dairy or they are old and they’re in graveyards. For the likes of me that loves what I am doing, every euro that comes into our yard creates €4 spent in the local economy, the tyre man, the diesel man, I could go on all night.”

Those rural communities are being supported by suckler farmers, he explained. “We are on a cliff edge at the moment and we are not gone into Brexit yet,” Mr Delaney remarked. 

“What’s the government in Europe or in this country going to do, are they just going to wait till we fall off an drown or is there a plan in place for us,” he asked, adding, “coming from tonight’s meeting it’s very hard to be positive and I’d always be positive.”   Mr Delaney asked “is there anything positive coming from the government as a young beef farmer hoping to go into the future and pass it on to the next generation like my parents done before me?”

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