Suckler beef sector gloom is deepening further as consumers are encouraged to cut meat consumption. Now farmers at Castlerea Mart hope a new Beef Plan Movement can drive change, writes Storm Powell.
David Creighton, Castlerea, Co Roscommon
Forty-year-old David runs 40 to 50 suckler cows on his farm.
"For the last 30 to 40 years, suckler farming has been the bedrock of rural Ireland and I don't know what will happen if it dwindles," he says.
"We need political leadership. Nobody seems to care about the suckler trade or the West of Ireland farmer.
"Leo Varadkar's comments on eating less red meat were reckless in the current climate, both damaging and dangerous to a sector which is already struggling. It shows that he doesn't know what's going in the farming sector."
David became involved in the Beef Plan Movement before Christmas.
"I felt it was time for us to stand up and fight for our industry," he explains. "For too long, beef farmers have had no representation."
The Beef Plan Group held an information meeting in Castlerea Mart last Wednesday.
"It allowed farmers to vent their anger and frustration," says David.
"Hopefully, this new movement will drive change and give beef farmers a much needed voice. Unfortunately, very few politicians attended."
Gabriel Sloyan, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo
Gabriel is a suckler and beef farmer on 90ac in Pattenspark.
"To improve trade, quality must be maintained," he says.
"In addition, live exports need to increase and red tape needs to be minimised.
"Leo Varadkar's comments won't have an effect on my generation. But younger people may follow his example by changing their eating habits."
Gabriel joined the Beef Plan Group at its first meeting in Roscommon last November.
"We're all looking for better prices as costs are so high," he says. "When the new movement reach their target of 40,000 farmers, we will have a strong voice and, hopefully, there will be safety in numbers.
"Low prices and poor financial returns causes stress for farmers and this causes mental health difficulties."
Brendan Egan, Ballymoe, Co Roscommon
Mart manager Brendan also farms 48ac.
"A lively suckler trade is vital for the local, rural community," he says.
"When calf prices are good and there is a vibrant export market, farmers are in a position to reinvest in their farms.
"The local businesses also benefit. Sucklers are suited to the West of Ireland as many are farming part-time.
"Quality is the key and the good suckler farmer is still making a decent living in this area.
"Leo Varadkar's comment has drawn a lot of debate in media and social media circles. Unfortunately, there is a lot of negative press at present for the farming community and agricultural sector."
As mart manager, Brendan facilitated the Beef Plan Group last week by providing the venue for their meeting. Brendan reckons there were up to 300 farmers attending.
"It was very informative."
He has not joined the group but says: "They have set themselves a tough task and I wish them well. Membership is growing weekly."
Patrick Duffy, Ballaghaderreen, Co Mayo
Forty-six-year old Patrick is a married man with three young children who farms 45ac at Kilmovee. At present, he has 15 suckler cows and supplements his farm income with farm assist payments.
"No one seems to know the solution to the suckler difficulties," says Patrick who was forced to retire from full-time off-farm work in 2016 due to ill health.
"I took over the home farm then. The dairy man is flooding the market."
Patrick would welcome greater export numbers as a means of improvement.
"The future is not too bright, young people in this area are not staying in farming. Costs are too high and prices are too low," he says.
"Leo Varadkar is not in touch with the reality of living in rural Ireland. His comments are bound to have an adverse impact for beef producers."
Patrick, who worries about the long-term future in the West, joined the Beef Plan Group at their meeting in Castlerea last week.
"If you sit idly by, you can't complain. The group comprises like-minded people who understand the challenges facing family farms.
"Holdings in the West are small and fragmented. If the group increases beef prices, even a small bit, we will all benefit. Most businesses in small rural areas are connected to farming and they all suffer if farming is not thriving.
"Policy makers don't seem to see outside Dublin."
John Towey, Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon
Fifty-year-old John from Pullboy is a full-time suckler farmer on 40ac.
"It's hard to make a living," says John, who would like to see increased subsidies to ensure the sustainability of the suckler farmer.
"Costs have increased. It's very hard to stay in farming."
John worked as a painter up to 10 years ago and then began farming full-time.
"I may plant or lease my land in the future. I am considering all my options," he says pessimistically.
"The young people won't farm due to low incomes.
"It's easy to know that Leo Varadkar is not from a farming background.
"His comments will encourage young people to stop eating meat."
Though John is not presently a member of the new Beef Plan group, he says: "Anything to improve prices is good for farmers - they are making sense and it's time for someone to represent us."