Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

'The Turkish market will put manners on the meat factories'

My week: Martin McMahon

Martin McMahon
Martin McMahon

Ken Whelan

The recent resumption of live exports to Turkey is music to the ears of Martin McMahon who says the new market is light at the end of a dark tunnel for suckler farmers.

"It is crucial that competition is encouraged in the beef market if farmers are to survive," he says.

"Live exports are the solution to the poor prices which suckler farmers have been getting. That's good news about Turkey because it will put manners on the factories who have had the market to themselves over the past few years."

Martin (62) has been rearing and finishing beef since he was a child at the family farm near O'Callaghan's Mills in Co Clare and he is no fan of the factories. "All they do is talk price of cattle down and the only solution to their dominance is live exports," he says.

Martin is a third generation beef farmer running his herd on 200 acres of what he describes as "mixed to punishing" land in the Banner County and he has never seen beef prices dip as much in all his years of farming.

There is no balance between the price the farmer is getting and the prices paid by consumers, says Martin.

"Without live exports we will all have to rely on the factories and they are only interested in talking the price down. The only solution to the problem is live exports. "

The maths are simple on Martin's calculator.

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"Weanling farmers are lucky to get €2.70 a kilo from the factories when they need substantially more than €3 a kilo to break even and beef finishers need more than €4 a kilo to justify staying in business.

"Beef farmers are struggling to make a living even with the single farm payment," he adds.

He wants Bord Bia to intensify its export drive to markets like Turkey, Italy and France and suggests that it sets up an expert committee of farmers and exporters.

The Government and Minister for Agriculture can lend a helping hand by increasing the payments available to suckler farmers under the beef genomics scheme, he adds.

Martin is married to Philomena, a retired nurse and, as is increasingly the case in rural Ireland, the family are all working off farm.

The eldest son, Daniel (33), works in the insurance sector but still does "a bit of weekend farming" on a nearby holding which he has recently purchased. The two girls are also off farm with - Amy (30) works as a solicitor in Dublin and Catherine (26) is a beautician in Galway.

While Daniel is likely to continue the family farming tradition, Martin reckons it will be in a different farming landscape.

"Suckler farming is going back and the numbers farming are dropping. It's not like farming in the past when a family could live on a small holding. Now you need three or four holdings to make the same living.

"It's sad. Everyone has a full-time job outside the farm and you don't see anyone in the countryside during the day.

"Your most important piece of equipment is your mobile phone so that you can call up for supplies or equipment or if you have a farm accident. There was a time when you would have two or three fellows working on the farm, but now it's yourself and you are working 24-7," Martin says.

I close by asking if he has any interests off farm: "Yes," comes the swift replay - "the Turkish market".

Indo Farming