Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Grass management skills can be the beef farmer's secret weapon

Stock Image: PA
Stock Image: PA

John Heney

Most of the time in farming, we are focused on trying to get through the daily tasks that keep the business running.

But sometimes an occasion comes along which can give us a whole new insight into farming.

For me, last Wednesday's Irish Grassland Association (IGA) beef conference and farm walk in Kells, Co Meath, was one of those special days.

The IGA is a totally voluntary organisation which does Trojan work. Driving up through the rain, I was looking forward to hearing the high-profile speakers talk about beef production.

I also felt quite pleased that I had got some freshly baled hay safely into a shed the previous night.

The main focus of the event was on grass production and its utilisation.

Several speakers emphasised the huge gains which could be achieved by proper grassland management - there was particular emphasis on paddock size and stock rotation.

The speakers were in agreement that farmers have little or no control over the price they receive from the market, but stressed that proper grass management can often far outweigh a negative adjustment in price.

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On the ongoing Brexit chaos, Bord Bia's Joe Burke stated that he believed British consumer preferences will not change overnight no matter what the outcome.

The British consumer will still place great emphasis on food safety and standards, which of course will benefit Irish beef, a product which they accept as being very similar to their own beef.

However, Mr Burke also touched on the nightmare 'no deal' Brexit scenario, which could mean tariffs of up to 60pc on Irish beef.

The two Euro-Star indices - the terminal index for selecting bulls to breed animal for slaughter and the replacement index for identifying female replacements - were also up for discussion.

Christy Watson explained that this index can be used to quantify traits in an animal which cannot be seen by the human eye.

As most beef animals are not finished by the breeder, this index will be used as a hugely important aid for farmers buying in animals for finishing.

I must confess feeling an uneasy sense of inadequacy as I sat listening to speakers after speaker set out their stall.

Tax bill

I felt somewhat at a loss as to how a person like me - running a simple, low-cost Friesian-based, store-to-beef grass-finishing system - had managed to survive for so long in the beef business.

What I find even more puzzling, however, is that I am still faced with a hugely exorbitant income tax bill at the end of each year.

To me, the most encouraging, and indeed important, aspect of the conference was the very large number of young people who attended.

But I think an opport- unity to get these young people more involved in the conference was missed.

The senior farming members of the panel were asked whether they would consider the dairy option, but it was a pity the same question was not then put the to the many young people present.

I believe that the response would have been very interesting, particularly as there appeared to be a reluctance by these young people to engage with the panel of speakers or ask questions during the many opportunities provided for questions from the floor.

Afterwards I found it very revealing when speaking to some of the young people, as many said that they had already considered the dairy option as a potential change of livelihood.

Others saw beef production as just a part-time option, while some simply looked forward to finding work in the agri sector.

In the afternoon, we had a very informative visit to Tom Halpin's suckler farm.

What can I say?

It's a brilliant farming operation, backed up by lots of hard work, expert knowledge, great management skills, business acumen and, last but not least, brilliant communications skills.

Well done to Tom and his family.

And thanks, too, to the hard-working people in the Irish Grassland Association for organising such an informative and pleasant day out.

John Heney farms in Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary

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