Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 23 April 2018

'The dairy lads are going to buy us out…we have to stand up for ourselves' - Suckler farmers say income crisis threatens rural Ireland

Calls for minimum payment for suckler scheme to be raised to €300/cow

The group intends to hold meetings across the 26 counties amid concerns that suckler farming and the rural communities it supports will cease to exist if declines continue.  
The group intends to hold meetings across the 26 counties amid concerns that suckler farming and the rural communities it supports will cease to exist if declines continue.  

Eoghan MacConnell

Suckler farming and the rural communities it supports are in threat of disappearing if measures aren't taken, a meeting in Co Offaly was told on Friday.

Although they outnumber dairy farmers by more than three to one, IFRG says suckler farmers have no place on any farming decision making top tables and are the poor cousin of their dairying counterparts. 

Scores of farmers from across Ireland attended an Irish Family Farm Rights Group(IFRG) suckler income crisis meeting in the Tullamore Court Hotel on Friday night.

The group intends to hold meetings across the 26 counties amid concerns that suckler farming and the rural communities it supports will cease to exist if declines continue. 

During the passionate and at times heated meeting, IFRG Chairman, Cork farmer Donie Shine, warned the gathering that “if you don’t listen to us here tonight, may god help rural Ireland in 20 or 30 years time.” 

While the group didn’t criticise dairy farmers, serious concerns were raised about the impact the expansion of the dairy sector was having on suckler farmers.

"The dairy lads are going to buy us out…we have to stand up for ourselves.”

IFRG’s Alan O’Brien warned the gathering that “the dairy lads are going to buy us out…we have to stand up for ourselves.” 

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“We are vulnerable as regards suckler cows,” said Mr Shine. He claimed the “big boys” are racing ahead in dairy.

 “Any man with 60, 70 or 100 cows in ten years time won’t even be at the races in a couple of years time,” he claimed.

“There’s guys with a thousand cows and they need carbon footprint going forward and the only way they can get it is you guys here in this room here tonight. You have bigger resources here than this guy with 1,000 cows and you don’t even realise it,” Mr Shine said. 

€300/cow payment

Mr Shine said he had met over 7,000 farmers while visiting 40 marts and they all agreed that the minimum payment for a suckling cow should be €300. “Our biggest organisation are trying to sell us out for €200,” he said, describing it as immoral.

“They want to make €200 a cow, so poor that it is not going to make us affective on the farm anymore,” he stated. 

To highlight his point, Mr Shine asked for a show of hands in favour and against the €300. Without exception, every farmer in the room was in favour of a €300 payment. 

“We are not going to accept anything less. I remember 25, 30 years ago there was £200 a suckler cow. You have 30 years gone and look were inflation has gone in the meantime. You have to get €300,” said Mr Shine. He pointed out that farmers in France are getting €400 a cow and said,  “that government care for their farmers.”  

Referring to payments in the dairy sector he said, “they can bring in a ceiling of €82,000 in TAMS to give these big boys to build their milking parlour or whatever. Fair play to them, but it’s a lot of money for one individual when the Government tells me they have no money.”  

IRFG’s Tommy Gunning urged the suckler farmers to show a united front. “The dairy men are being well looked after because they are sticking together,” he told the gathering.

'Crisis in suckling herd has never been as bad in the last ten years'

President of the Irish Charolais Society, Kevin Maguire said “this is a crisis the suckling herd has never been as bad in the last ten years. It’s unbelievable the way this crisis is affecting family farms here in Ireland.” 

“I think our main farm organisations let down this sector very bad,” said Mr Maguire.  He called for  “total honesty” with the beef sector and suggested “promoting suckling beef coming off suckling herds here.” Mr Maguire said  “I urge all farm organisations in this country to get behind the suckling farmer of this country because there is a serious problem at the moment. A serious problem with families all over this country,  people are on the breadline.”  

Secretary of the  Irish Limousin Society Paul Sykes said “along with the demise of the suckler farmer, equally we are going to see and we have already witnessed the demise of rural Ireland. 

"The suckler cow along with jobs is keeping businesses alive, keeping those small towns ticking. What we are beginning to see is urbanisation where people are leaving rural communities are moving to big cities and they are not able to cope with the big cities." 

David Murphy from Limerick pointed out that poorer ground is only suited to suckler farming. He said “I’m led to believe that for every €1 that is made out of a suckler cow, €5 goes back into the local economy.” 

Mr Murphy said “there would be no-one here tonight inside of this room if they were happy, they’d be at home,” he remarked. He said farmers should consider lobbying TDs.

“We saw what happened with the water, people power, people pushed it over the line,” he remarked. Mr Murphy said “we are going to be ran off the land if we don’t do it.”

Problems with star ratings

Many of the farmers in the room had problems with the star rating. Tom Fitzgerald of the Belgian Blue Society said the system is diminishing the quality suckler cows. “Every farmer here is forced to get rid of their best cows and go for four and five star,” he remarked.  He urged those in the room to go to a mart and look at good reliability ratings.

“Then go and look at the animal that’s coming up with those figures. The worst looking yoke you ever seen coming from the worst dairy cow you can imagine,” said Mr Fitzgerald. 

Glen Cooper who manages Mountrath Mart in Co Laois believes “the standard of cattle has dropped dramatically.” He said they have customers who visit the mart from Northern Ireland to buy cattle for export but “we are actually struggling to keep them coming to our mart at the minute because the standard of cattle has dropped so much.”

Aidan McHale from Mayo recalled better times when he was growing up. He admitted he hadn’t encourage his children to go into farming and said depression has now become a real problem for farmers who are struggling to make ends meet.

“It is coming from not being able to make enough off the farm,” he remarked. 

The media and the IFA were criticised by some of those at meeting who felt their concerns were not being highlighted. A farmer’s wife from Mayo was highly critical of the media. She claimed the government don’t understand the reality for suckler farmers.

“There is a complete mistrust with all the organisations,” she remarked. “I am disgusted most of the time looking at unfair media,” she added. 


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