'The dairy influence has led to a huge reduction in quality'
Storm Powell travelled to Tullamore Mart to hear farmers' views on dairy-bred stock coming into the beef chain, 'Meatless Mondays' and the lack of premium payments for cattle
Strokestown, Co Roscommon
Auctioneer Tom Cox also farms a 160-cow suckler herd near Strokestown.
"Considering the uncertainty of Brexit, prices for stores are quite good at present," says Tom. "A lot of buyers only graze for the grass season and they have been receiving a reasonable return over the last few years. But, the beef man is not receiving enough for finished cattle when overheads are taken into account.
"The dairy influence on beef and store cattle has led to huge reduction in quality," says Tom. Previously, the bulk of good continental cattle were R and U grade, now we see a lot of O and P grade cattle coming to the market. More exports would improve competition and this could reduce the dairy-bred stock on the market."
Tom is not happy with An Taisce's leaflet to schools which encourages children to eat less meat and dairy products. "We will always eat meat and, hopefully, their recommendations won't reduce consumption."
On premium payments, Tom is fully in support of a premium of €200 to €250 per suckler cow and worries that the suckler herd will be decimated if further aid is not provided.
Roscrea, Co Tipperary
Cattle dealer, Michael Mullins from Gurteen, Ballybritt is also a drystock farmer on around 175ac of which 100ac is rented.
"Whereas store prices are holding up, the price for beef cattle is outrageously poor," says Michael. "Farmers need to have a say in the price of the product they are producing. Factories should be forced to negotiate prices with farmers."
Michael is concerned about the influx of dairy-bred cattle into the beef chain. "The suckler man needs to get €200 a head to maintain the quality breeds. We will be left with dairy-bred cattle if there is no further subsidy for sucklers."
On An Taisce's message to schools, Michael says: "Messages like this can seriously damage the industry. If farmers are forced out of the business, it will take years to build the industry back up again."
Rosenallis, Co Laois
20-year-old Jason farms part-time with his uncle Daniel in Graigue, Mountmellick and also has a part-time job off-farm. They have sucklers and followers - about 50 cattle in total on 60ac.
"Trade is good today," says Jason, "but the uncertainty of Brexit and also the increasing overhead costs of feed and fertiliser are an ongoing concern for us.
"The influx of dairy-bred stock is damaging trade of good quality cattle that are now in less supply," says Jason who would welcome increased subsidies for sucklers. "But cattle prices are a bigger concern."
Commenting on the An Taisce leaflet, Jason says: "Young people need meat and dairy in their diet. Greenhouse gas emissions caused by transportation should be tackled ahead of emissions from farming."
Killeigh, Co Offaly
Gary farms 30 suckler cows on 90ac. He also works in the building trade.
"Prices are good today but margins for the beef man are poor as stores have become so dear," says Gary who usually sells his cattle in the summer as 1½-year-olds.
With the increase of dairy-bred cattle for sale, Gary says: "There should be a premium paid for suckler-bred cattle or a bonus scheme for non-dairy stock."
Gary would like to see Bord Bia become more involved in the provision of educational programmes for school children. "Show them some of the positives of farming. Show them healthy cattle rather than greasy burgers. Highlight the good aspects," he says.
On promoting Irish beef in general terms, Gary says: "We are reliant on an export market. Our unique selling point is the superior quality of our grass-fed cattle and this needs to be highlighted."
Gary suggests that a premium should be paid to producers of quality carcases in the factory. "What's the point of producing quality animals for the factory if we are not rewarded?" he asks. He would also welcome the development of exports of dead animals "seeking new markets with emphasis on the quality, green-ness and traceability of the animal."
Portarlington, Co Offaly
Seamus is a part-time beef farmer on 45ac in Cloneyhurke. He also works as a shop manager for Glanbia.
"Prices have improved in the last few months but there is a very low margin for finished cattle," says Seamus who rears calves to beef. "Prices are down from this time last year and overheads have increased."
On dairy-bred stock, Seamus applauds the recent introduction of the Twenty20 programme whereby Glanbia and Kepak have announced a new calf-to-beef programme for 50,000 calves that will provide a cashflow payment of €770 over a calf's lifetime. "This programme will involve the rearing and finishing of calves who originate from the dairy herds of Glanbia suppliers," says Seamus.
"An Taisce's actions will harm the meat and dairying industry," says Seamus. "A note going home from school encouraging people not to eat meat and dairy products will affect the industry. The positive elements of meat and dairy consumption need to be promoted in schools. A balanced diet is essential. A reduction in the carbon footprint should not be at the expense of beef production."
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