Robin Talbot: Plaudits for China deal are fine, but let's see price rise before we party
The announcement of the imminent opening of the Chinese market is to be welcomed.
My sources in the beef industry inform me that one of the things the Chinese delegations liked about Irish beef is the fact that it is mostly produced on family farms. This is an attribute of our production system that needs to be safeguarded.
But I couldn't help having a feeling of déjà vu. We heard all the same kinds of things being said about the opening of the US a few years ago. It's obvious now that the optimism for that market was seriously overstated. I hope we are not saying the same about China in a few years' time.
But, as livestock farmers, I think we have to stand up for ourselves.
Most of the news reports were talking about how it is a market that will add value to the carcase. If this new market doesn't deliver a price increase at the farm gate, we will need to ask questions and get answers from those who are taking the plaudits now.
All our stock are now out, except for the few beef heifers that will be finished in the shed.
The reason they are now all out is that there is nothing left for them inside. The underfoot conditions outside are horrendous but at least the grass is starting to come to them.
This is, without doubt, the longest winter that I can remember. We'd usually have all our stock out to grass by April 1, whereas this year they were all inside on that date.
I really found the last few weeks extremely difficult emotionally. We would always have ample supplies of silage and straw but, like a lot of farmers, we found ourselves sparing to make it last. I love my animals and felt bad that I was struggling to look after them as well as I would want to.
But, hopefully, the worst of the bad weather is now behind us.
All the grazing ground has now got to have two applications of 18-6-12, at 2cwt/acre. From here on in, we will use nitrogen.
All our slurry tanks are full to the brim. So, every chance we get this year, we will have to spread slurry.
Also, we have a lot of farmyard manure, as a consequence of the stock being in for six weeks longer than usual.
We succeeded in letting up our ground for first cut silage at the usual time. Our plan is to take an early cut of maybe 25pc of it that will hopefully be close to 80 DMD, which will be fed to the fattening cattle next year.
We will let the remainder grow on for another 7-10 days and hopefully that will have a DMD in the mid-70s, which will be fed to the suckler cows.
Our ground that's earmarked for spring barley is still quite wet and I can't see anything being done there for quite a while.
Our winter barley got its second application of fertiliser last week, bringing it up to a total of 140 units N per acre.
At the moment, it looks clean from a disease point of view and has a good colour.
If it gets a bit of warmth and sunshine, I'd say it's ready to take off.
It was sprayed for weeds in the autumn but, as soon as the weather settles, we will put a good fungicide spray on it. Hopefully that will be done this week.
We are halfway through the sales of our beef heifers. The weights are holding up around 365kg on average, with a good fat cover, mainly 4s.
A good few of the heifers left are younger and lighter but will still be finished in the next month out of shed so that will bring the average down a bit.
One of the reasons we finish them out of the shed is that it simplifies our system insofar as the only animals we have out grazing are cows and calves, stock bulls and replacement heifers.
I found over the years it was a case of swings and roundabouts.
We used to let these heifers out to graze and finish them off grass at the back end of the year. But, generally what happened, we had heavier heifers and were getting less per kilo for them at that time.
I think we are doing just as well by sending them to the factory at lighter weights and hopefully a better price per kg.
A job we will do in the next couple of weeks is wean the calves off the cull cows and the empty cows, with a view to having the cull cows finished by the end of May/early June.
Also a bit of good news last week - our cow that was inconclusive in the herd test went clear on her re-test.
Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann in Ballacolla, Co Laois
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