Farm Ireland

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Beef industry needs to wake up to changing consumer tastes

Shane Randles, Salesian Agricultural College pictured with Kilrush Community School pupils Padraig Donoghue and Thomas Kelly at a careers open day in the Salesian Agricultural College, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick. Photo O'Gorman Photography.
Shane Randles, Salesian Agricultural College pictured with Kilrush Community School pupils Padraig Donoghue and Thomas Kelly at a careers open day in the Salesian Agricultural College, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick. Photo O'Gorman Photography.

John Heney

Now that it's back to business as usual after Mother Nature's total shutdown of most of our cities and countryside, it's a good time to take stock of what's happening on our farms.

With one of the wettest winters I have seen for a long time coming to an end, I feel really sorry for anyone who was trying to out-winter cattle in those atrocious conditions where it never seemed to stop raining day after day, week after week and indeed month after month

Sometimes you get a lucky break and this was the case for me when I got all my slurry spread during the few fine days which preceded the snow blizzards. A heartfelt thanks to James my local contractor who successfully carried out the operation

A good deal of rain water had got into the slurry tanks during January, but this was a great help during the mixing process as it makes it much easier to agitate the slurry.

Diluted slurry washes in much quicker which mean that it starts to work almost immediately, something which is particularly helpful because of slurry's valuable nitrogen content.

After some initial concern about how my store cattle were doing in the shed, they appear to be looking much better since they started getting first-cut silage.

They appear to have grown well and seem to have put on a fair amount of weight.

However, I know from experience that this is probably just an illusion. If you go to any mart at this time of the year you will be amazed at how disappointing weights can be for store cattle who have been fed solely on a diet of silage.

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My experience is that when these big store cattle who have been fed on good silage go out onto grass, they can put on an incredible amount of weight in six to eight weeks. This is a feature of finishing cattle on grass which never ceases to amaze me.

I had hoped to let out some of my cattle last week but with a forecast of more snow and frost for the St Patrick's weekend, I decided to wait for another few days.

My big concern of course is to get my turn-out timing right. Having little or no grass available for the second grazing would certainly take the joy out of having cattle out early. Against that, an even worst scenario would be for the grass to get too strong and unpalatable.

The question we are all asking is what does the rest of the year hold for beef farmers?

On the positive side, in spite of an increase in supply, there appears to be a fairly strong demand for beef cattle, also we hear repeated reports of new market outlets and opportunities for beef exports.

However, the shadow of Brexit and Mercosur continues to loom large over our multi billion export business. And the noises emanating from Brussels in relation to cuts in EU farm support payments is another cause for concern.

When the pressure is on our sector and prices are dropping, one of the many remedies which our politicians will invariably announce is extra state aid for research in food technology and food science.

As a producer of good naturally produced high quality food, when I hear this I sometimes wonder could our politicians and experts have actually lost their way?

I happened to be in Dublin on the day of the recent Ireland-Scotland rugby match, so I dropped into a pub in Dun Laoghaire to watch the game. During the half-time interval I got chatting with another supporter who said that he had just popped in from his business across the street to see the match.


As it happened his name was Nigel Hicks of Hicks the well known family butchers in Dun Laoghaire, renowned for their hand-made pork products.

Curious about how things were at the retail coalface, I asked Nigel if he found that consumer tastes had evolved and changed a lot over the years? His response was very interesting.

He told me that they still process all their own products and that they use the same recipe in the making of their sausages as his grandfather had used over 90 years ago.

This excludes the use of modern chemicals and preservatives and it is this natural, unprocessed quality which his customers look for and are willing to travel great distances to purchase.

So why can't we do this with our unique natural beef product?

We all know that the market is out there and consumers are happy to pay for high quality natural food.

But what do we do?

We continue to pour millions into research on processes which could actually debase and devalue our premium products.

This makes no sense at all.

John Heney farms in Kilfeackle, Co Tipperary

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