John Heney: It's long past time that the mandarins listened to real farmers

John Heney

Recently while changing cattle onto fresh grass, two lots got mixed. This meant that I had to get them back into the yard to sort them out which I managed to do without too much hassle. However, I was less than impressed with the appearance of some of these cattle when I saw them in the yard.

Last autumn when they were bought as store I felt that their confirmation was quite good (for Friesians). A year on, though, things appear to have changed and not for the better.

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I have often heard it said that as Friesian/Holstein cattle grow older they tend to acquire more of their dams' traits.

The extra year appears to have certainly brought out more of the Holstein in my cattle even though, as far as condition is concerned, they still appear to be doing quite well.

There was one positive I could glean from that morning's exercise and that was that my new yard set-up was working well.

During the summer I completely replaced the concrete in the yard beside my shed which had become quite damaged over the years.

I also rebuilt my cattle crush after a near miss with a big tall Friesian bullock who, having failed in his efforts to jump the front gate of the crush, fell out over the side where I was standing. I had just enough time to jump out of his way.

While I was making all of these changes, I decided to remove an old weighing scales which had succumbed to the dreaded rust and erected some steel railing in its place.

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All it needs now is some small tweaks and a good coat of paint.

I mentioned in last month's article about finding some interesting items when I was clearing out my desk. Among them was a letter which I received some 20 years ago from a suckler farmer in Roscommon.

He wrote that after many years of following the advice of our advisory services, which in his own words involved erecting "slatted sheds, silage slabs, calving boxes and any other items which were supposed to secure my future in farming (I found that) today 22-9-1999 I have no future".

He went on to write: "I am 45 with a wife and family, it is not easy to face back into the work-force - I will survive, but I do feel I have wasted the best working years of my life".

Unfortunately, 20 years later, as far as formulating proper farm policy is concerned, little has changed. It seems no lessons have been learned.

For instance, when the recession struck 10 years ago resulting in a general drop in employment, many young people growing up on our farms were sold a pup.

Our politicians and policy-makers actively encouraged these young people to invest in the traditionally low-income, suckler farming sector with totally unfounded promises of a bright and prosperous future.

Unfortunately, these young people who at the time were lauded in the media as being saviours of the Irish economy, now find themselves in a similar position to my 1999 letter writer - abandoned with huge debts to pay.

We hear a lot of discussion about the future of farming, but if we are to have a future, farming needs to retain these young men and women, because they are our future.

I also believe that these young people deserve an apology for the misinformation they were given at the time and also deserve to be compensated in some way for the money they invested in "rescuing" our economy.

In what must be something of an embarrassment to our established farming organisations, it appears that the Beef Plan Movement protests, which started earlier this month with just a few farmers picketing meat plants, has now led to a long overdue exposé of decades of neglect in our crisis-ridden beef sector.

Unfortunately this has resulted in many people, including economists and some farming commentators, asserting that we are looking at an inevitable end to beef farming as we know it in Ireland.

I strongly disagree. I believe that Irish beef has a great future. The main problem as I see it is that our current high-cost, high-input beef production system which some the Department of Agriculture mandarins continue to promote.

These policy-makers (whose salaries are never at risk) must abandon their tragically flawed and politically driven agenda.

The must start promoting and encouraging low-cost production systems which fully utilise the amazing competitive advantage we have in our unique natural growing environment.

Finally, the issue of 'quality' is often raised in the beef debate but seldom defined.

Research has shown that while the breed of an animal will certainly affect kill-out percentage, it has little to do with beef's most important attribute of all - eating quality.

Isn't it about time our policy gurus listened to real farmers?

Perhaps their meeting on August 12 with the Beef Plan Movement is a start in that direction.

Indo Farming

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