Farm Ireland

Saturday 23 March 2019

'The 30-month age limit has to be scrapped'

Tim MacRaith
Tim MacRaith

Ken Whelan

The beef grid system has to go - and while the authorities are dismantling it, they can also scrap the 30-month age limit for selling cattle: that's the verdict of Tim MacRaith, a lifelong beef man from Garryspillane in Co Limerick.

He doesn't mince his words about the beef grid, which he says was flawed from day one of its introduction.

"It pays farmers the very minimum but if there is a scandal or a hint of a breach in the regulations, it is the farmers who are press-ganged into speaking up for the beef sector on the grounds that we could lose our foreign customers," says the 58-year-old farmer.

"An independent expert group, which would be acceptable and trusted by the beef farmers, needs to be set up to revamp the grid and ensure that farmers get a fair price for their cattle," he adds.

"Otherwise, MII [Meat Industry Ireland] and the beef processors are not going to pay a cent more than they have to under the present system."

Tim's 100-acre farm in Garryspillane has a fascinating history.

The MacRaiths were evicted from their home place in the late 1890s but persevered and bought the home place back for 630 old pounds.

Tim still has the purchase documents bearing the insignia of King George V. He intends to ensure the farm remains in the family for a few more generations. "I couldn't face the grandfather, father and uncle on the other side if I did anything else," he jokes.

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Tim and his wife Ann have eight-year-old twins - Eugene and Alice - and Tim says "one or either of them or both" could take over the farm.

"Women and men make great farmers these days," he adds.

Tim is not overly impressed by the farm organisations' performance in representing their members.

A former IFA member and currently a member of the ICMSA, he is tracking the progress of the new Beef Plan movement. "They are talking up for the beef farmer and it will be interesting to see how things develop," says Tim.

One issue he thinks they should concentrate on is getting the 30-month age limit on cattle abolished.

"It's a load of codology. There is no difference in the quality of meat of a bullock at 29 months of age and a bullock of 31 months - I have read reports that farmers have lost millions because of this rule."

Like all farmers, he is worried about what he describes as the "chicken run that is Brexit" and believes that the Irish Government should be helping "the Tories and DUP to get out of the mess they have landed themselves in". "No amount of trade missions to China are going to replace the trade we do with Britain," he says.

And given the current circumstances, he wonders about the wisdom of farmers investing heavily in plant and machinery.

But Tim's main priority is the reform of the beef price grid, which he says has to be rebalanced in favour of the producer and away from the processors, supermarkets and consumers.

He also wants a rebalancing of the CAP farm subsidies in favour of productive farmers rather than feedlots and hobby farmers.

Off farm, Tim works part-time for Bus Eireann and drives a local school bus five days a week to supplement his farm income. He has an interest in current affairs but says that farming is his main passion.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

Indo Farming