John Heney: 'Politicians need to wise up to how close the beef sector is to a tipping point'

A section of farmers at the ring at Headford mart cattle and sheep sale. Photo; Ray Ryan.
A section of farmers at the ring at Headford mart cattle and sheep sale. Photo; Ray Ryan.
Stock Image.

John Heney

Looking at the countryside last week, I was mindful of the song 'Forty Shades of Green'. The mild spell over the Christmas resulted in some unusually early grass growth which has helped to ease us gently into 2019. Hopefully, this is a good omen for the year ahead.

The new year brings with it many new challenges and increasing uncertainty.

Whatever people may say about farmers, they must admit that we are eternal optimists.

On farms across the country, farmers are making improvements and investments in order to simply keep the show on the road for another year.

In relation to issues such as Brexit, I sometimes doubt the ability of some of our politicians.

However, after witnessing what is happening across the water in Westminster, it would appear that our elected representatives may not be so bad after all.

That said, they will still have to 'box clever' if we are to survive the upcoming challenges.

Unfortunately, beef continues to be our weakest and most vulnerable farming sector, but our politicians' response has always been to simply ignore the problem and hope it would go away

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I find it difficult to understand why beef supports ­- which the sector has always needed to survive - have been gradually whittled away and in many cases redistributed elsewhere for populist political ends.

We have been repeatedly presented with plans drawn up by faceless bureaucrats and presented in nice glossy brochures on the future of our industry - but to what avail? Absolutely none, things just continue to get worse!

Is it any wonder that many disillusioned cattle farmers now question the vision of the people who supposedly speak for us?

However, it appears change may be at hand.

The thousands of farmers involved in the Beef Plan movement have laid bare the neglect of cattle farming in Ireland.

But is it already too late? The absence of young faces at cattle marts around the country in recent years suggests we are far closer than we imagine to reaching a tipping point.

Also of great concern are recent reports suggesting that our meat plants already control almost 20pc of beef cattle production. That figure is only likely to increase.

So just imagine what will happen when it's the representatives of the beef processors fattening units rather than farm leaders who are negotiating with the Government.

When they explain how important their beef finishing units are to our economy and how much more money they will need to survive, experience would suggest that unlike our current beef farming representatives, they will certainly not leave empty handed.


Meanwhile, back on my own farm I got the last of my cattle into the shed around December 10.

Similar to the last few years, I treated them with a pour-on lice and worm dose which I find excellent for dealing with lice during the winter housing period.

One trend I noticed when buying cattle last autumn was the drop in the numbers of Friesian-type store cattle in the marts.

However, after all the negative comments we've been hearing about the type of stock now being produced on dairy farms, I was quite surprised at how well this year's stores appear to look on their simple diet of just silage.

That said, I won't be holding my breath in expectation of any improvement in grades next autumn.

I have just finished my second-cut silage and have now started to feed first-cut.

My second-cut silage turned out very well except for a problem with mustiness on the sides of the pit due to it ­being cut in very dry conditions.

I had the same problem about 10 years ago and lost a bullock because of it.

It's not an easy job, but I tried my best to remove the musty silage and hopefully there will no negative consequences this time round.

My first-cut silage also appears quite good considering that I am probably one of the few farmers in the country to have saved wet, first-cut silage this year.

Do I have enough silage to see me out 'till the spring'? It's too early yet to say, but with all the mild weather we have been getting, I'm hopeful.

John Heney farms in Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

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