Colm O'Donnell: Why a viable suckler sector is vital for the survival of farming in the west
The suckler cow sector is the main driver for both agriculture and the overall rural economy in many areas of the west and northwest.
Consequently, any assessment of this sector needs to consider its wider impact and cannot just focus on profitability in any given year.
When assessing this wider impact we have to also recognise the land type and farming systems that predominates, as well as any impact on the environment.
The AIM Bovine Statistics Report from 2017 in relation to the percentage of calves born to beef and dairy dams probably best illustrates where suckler farming is strongest.
Leitrim at 91.6pc and Roscommon at 89.3pc have the highest birth rates from beef dams, with Cork at 16.7pc and Waterford at 21.4pc having the lowest. Other counties with a high percentages include Mayo at 81.7pc, Sligo at 78.8pc and Galway at 73.8pc.
When we consider these figures, especially in relation to Leitrim, we see how suckler cows are more commonplace where soils are heavier and farm sizes are smaller and often fragmented.
In staying with Leitrim we can also see how critically important to both the environment and the local economy our suckler cows are.
This is especially so when you consider the massive expansion of predominately Sitka spruce forestry in the county. Forestry expansion is negatively impacting on local communities and the environment, this is also becoming an issue in other counties.