Farm Ireland

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Letter to the editor: Suckler farmers need supports while farm leaders devise a soft landing for the sector

Last week's comment piece by Darragh McCullough arguing against the IFA's proposal for a €200/hd suckler subsidy drew a considerable response from readers including the following letter from Frank Kehoe, Ferns, Co Wexford.

Darragh McCullough's opinion drew a considerable response
Darragh McCullough's opinion drew a considerable response

As a suckler farmer I commend Darragh McCullough's article (October 2) headlined "Myths about suckler farming" in the sense that it opens a national conversation about the sector that needs to take place. It has to be said that the view articulated in the article that the suckler sector should not be financially supported demonstrates a degree of courage on Mr McCullough's behalf.

From the inside, I can recognise that the outlook for our sector looks truly awful.

Of the full-time farmers engaged in suckling, less than 5pc are under 50 years of age.

This demographic profile alone suggests the sector is doomed.

However, what the article fails to recognise is that what Irish society, the Irish economy and Irish suckler farmers need is a soft landing towards a planned national exit.

An exit which avoids mayhem in both society and the economy will not come cheap.

It is important for society to recognise that the reason that we have close to one million suckler cows in the Republic of Ireland is because successive governments - together with others - have strongly encouraged the growth and maintenance of the national herd over the last 30 years.

For example, if I as an individual decided to exit sucklers over the next few months, I would receive a bill from the State for about €25,000 under the terms and conditions of the genomic scheme.

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Whereas, Mr McCullough and I would agree that the long-term future of the Irish suckler herd is doomed, he seems oblivious to the implications of a sudden exit and failure for significant support in the short term.

The article suggests that progressive dairy farmers are in need of the land, facilities such as sheds, as well as the skill sets that suckler farmers possess.

The reference to "skills that dairy farmers are belatedly realising that they need to tap into", although subtly presented, conjures up the image of zero hours and minimum wage.

The article makes the valid point that the importance of the suckler herd from a national perspective "is not frozen in time", and that circumstances change. Point taken, but it is equally valid that history would also suggest that it would be grossly imprudent to displace the suckler cows currently residing in Leinster as well as north and east Munster with an extra half a million dairy cows, hence putting all our eggs in one basket.

Connacht and west Munster is the place of the fabulously successful Wild Atlantic Way. Suckler cows and their progeny are an important part of that magnificent landscape.

Mr McCullough would accept that dairy cows are unsuitable for much of this type of ground, but has a fall-back position that "forestry represents untapped potential".

I would challenge all of us to imagine what suckler cows, displaced by sitka spruce on the Wild Atlantic Way would do for Irish tourism.

I suggest that reasonable people would agree that the social upheaval caused by the national abandonment of the suckler cow would not be solved by a combination of sitka spruce and zero-hour contracts on dairy farms.

However, there is a third way, if we accept that the State has significant responsibility for where we are.

The best leadership that Minister Creed could offer at this time is to publicly acknowledge that we have a problem and that an exit strategy may be required. He should immediately commission a report for a strategic withdrawal if it is found that a withdrawal is the best course of action from a national perspective.

The farm organisations should continue to absent themselves from the beef forum because it has been reduced to a whinge-fest on behalf of farmers which never cuts ice with hard-nosed business types. The realisation that an assisted exit is on the cards will at least stimulate genuine reaction from the industry.

An orderly slaughter scheme for suckler cows will have to be commissioned if it's found that an exit is appropriate.

While the Minister is waiting for the comprehensive report and recommendations for the future of the sector the suggested €200 payment would be totally appropriate.

Indo Farming

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