Beef grid is not delivering the goods for farmers says QPS designer

Former beef specialist Michael Drennan
Former beef specialist Michael Drennan
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Quality stock from the suckler herd is not being rewarded to a sufficient degree by the current 18c/kg differential between the various grades used by the QPS beef grid.

The architect of the original QPS payment mechanism, Michael Drennan, claimed that producers of continental stock with good conformation and meat yield were not being paid enough for the cattle they produce.

The former Teagasc beef research scientist said the impact of the differential had been diluted by the overall lift in the cattle prices since the beef grid was originally put in place over a decade ago, and suckler farmers have lost out as a consequence.

"Carcass prices in recent years do not adequately reward quality stock or meat yield. A carcass dissection study carried out by Grange staff showed that a one-unit increase in conformation score (eg, O to R) increased meat yield by 3.5pc and carcass value by 5.8pc," Dr Drennan explained.

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"Based on this study, carcass prices which reflected meat yield were suggested and agreed by both meat processors and the IFA. These agreements were reached over 10 years ago but were not adequately adjusted to reflect overall price increases in the meantime.

"As a result, carcasses of high meat yield from the suckler herd are under-priced relative to those of low meat yield from the dairy herd."

A differential of 18c/kg generally exists between the various grade categories in the grid, but analysis showed that the differential actually paid in 2018 was just 15c/kg.

He said this differential was insufficient to reward producers of top-quality cattle from the suckler herd and should be increased to at least 23c/kg.

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He also questioned the effectiveness of both the Beef Data Genomic Programme (BDGP) and the Beef Environment Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) scheme.

He said the BEEP scheme does not take account of the three most important determinants of efficiency: feed intake, carcass weight and carcass quality (meat yield and meat value).

The scheme, which is based on calf pre-weaning gain - mainly determined by cow milk yield - and cow weight, actually has a negative effect on both killing-out percentage and meat yield, he maintained.

"As the emphasis of the scheme is on high milk yield and low cow weight, replacements from the dairy herd are favoured," Dr Drennan said.

However, he pointed out that these replacements were not suitable for the suckler herd because of their lower carcass quality and reduced efficiency of feed use.

"The overall result of using such replacements would be a reduction in the incomes from suckler beef production," Dr Drennan claimed.

With regard to the BDGP, he said that since milk yield was a major contributor to the star ratings of suckler cows, dairy crosses were frequently sourced as replacements in order to meet the 4-star and 5-star requirements of the scheme.

"Due to the continued decline in the beef merit of the dairy herd, sourcing suckler herd replacements from the dairy herd will result in a decline in the carcass quality of animals from the suckler herd," he pointed out.

He also questioned the basis of the star ratings of suckler dams, claiming that studies at Grange showed no difference between the progeny of 4-star and 5-star cows and those from cows with a lower star rating.

Furthermore, Dr Drennan said it was misleading to express calf weaning weight relative to cow weight as an indicator of efficiency.

Grange studies have shown that the energy requirements of a 600kg beef-cross-Friesian cow during pregnancy is similar to that of a 660kg Charolais-cross (7/8 Charolais) cow, Dr Drennan maintained.

He said other Grange studies comparing Charolais-cross steers (3/4 bred or greater) and Holstein-Friesian steers showed that although the Holstein-Friesians were 80kg lighter, they consumed 4pc more grass dry matter than the Charolais crosses.

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