'The reality is that if any beef farmers are to prosper, many more will have to exit the sector'

A group of influential beef farmers, with a track record in national farming organisations, have issued this statement backing calls for a significant cull in the national herd

Frontline: Farmers protesting at the ABP plant, in Granagh, south Kilkenny last week (l-r): Michael Frisby, Moincoin, Kilkenny; Cllr Seanie Power, Waterford; Jim Cullinan, Kilbrien, Waterford and Kevin Barry, Cushinstown, Co Wexford. Photo: Mary Browne
Frontline: Farmers protesting at the ABP plant, in Granagh, south Kilkenny last week (l-r): Michael Frisby, Moincoin, Kilkenny; Cllr Seanie Power, Waterford; Jim Cullinan, Kilbrien, Waterford and Kevin Barry, Cushinstown, Co Wexford. Photo: Mary Browne

The time has come when suckler farmers must carefully examine their lack of profitability, and the absence of viable prospects going forward. Farmers have to face reality and realise that continuing to breed suckler cows will inevitably continue as a loss making enterprise. We must finally grasp the fact that for some to prosper many must go.

This was one of the findings of a "think tank" group of farmers from all over Ireland who met to discuss the current situation in the beef industry.

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The purpose of the meeting was not to form yet another lobby group, but to map out a sustainable long-term solution and promote debate amongst farmers, unhindered by the interests of others within the industry.

The agreed position of those participating before the meeting began was that the aspirations of Irish suckler farmers must be based on logic and reasoned debate.

The issues

* EU over-production combined with EU imports, both current and planned.

* Falling beef consumption within the EU.

* Political pronouncements of support for the sector, which are not accompanied by strategies designed to effect long-term resolution.

* Why farm leaders, who rightly speak of the contribution of suckler cows to the rural economy, don't address the issue of oversupply. WHY?

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* The political reality of Mercosur at EU level, which suggests that only cosmetic changes are possible.

* The time bomb of several hundred thousand surplus dairy calves, which are close to the point of becoming unsaleable.

It was agreed that in order to make progress in the EU as a whole, steps have to be taken to ensure that the delicate balance between consumption and production must be addressed.

It is recognised that the expanding dairy herd and its annual crop of calves is not something that can be wished away.

It is further recognised that the irresponsible breeding policy of some dairy farmers has contributed significantly to the overall problem.

However, it is acknowledged that in the Irish context the number of suckler cows will have to be drastically reduced in order to redress the balance.

A 50pc reduction in suckler cows would provide a 20pc reduction in the size of the national cow herd.

Unfortunately, the time has come for a reality check, a time to realise that breeding suckler cows at the present rate will inevitably continue to be a loss making enterprise.

Farmers would have to be compensated substantially for reducing cow numbers, and facing a significant cultural and lifestyle shift.

Suggestions that suckler farmers should be paid for reducing their number of cows, and that the funding could be achieved, by reducing payments to other farmers is anathema to us and would be considered totally divisive and unfair.

Civil unrest

Any attempt to implement such a measure would have the potential to ignite a level of civil unrest not seen in Irish society in a generation.

Culling would be on a totally voluntary basis with a scheme open to both full herd, and part herd reduction.

For those who choose to remain in beef farming, real and tangible support must be forthcoming from the state and the EU. We believe that it is absolutely essential that a section of a Government department with its own junior minister should be activated and financed to explore all the possibilities of alternative land use with a heavy emphasis on environment and leisure.

The group believe that their thought process is in line, not the only with the reality of the market, but in line with the thought process of the more progressive elements in Irish and European politics.

The hope is that the findings of the group will stimulate debate, discussion and provide a catalyst for a dynamic change in our industry.

- Frank Kehoe, Co Wexford

- Michael Carberry, Co Louth

- Joe O'Toole, Co Wicklow

- Dermot Kelleher, Co Cork

- Malcolm Thompson, Co Donegal

- Tom Stephenson, Co Wicklow

- Edward Browne, Co Donegal

- John Halley, Co Waterford.

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