Beef sector's woes shouldn't be laid at dairy farmers' doors

Track record: Henry Walsh has gone from milking 50 cows with 230,000 litre of quota in 1996 to 250 cows and 1.2m litres.
Track record: Henry Walsh has gone from milking 50 cows with 230,000 litre of quota in 1996 to 250 cows and 1.2m litres.
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Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

We are farming in a very divisive environment with some beef farmers blaming others for the poor state of their finances.

There is a lot of stress and pressure on farmers in almost every enterprise.

While the weather is always and will always have a major influence on our farming lives and perhaps never more so than this year, the real problem currently is profit or more to the point the lack of profit.

Every enterprise is feeling the pinch and within each enterprise, for example beef, whether you are suckler farming, have a store/summer grazing enterprise or a fattening operation, the common thread from birth to 30 months is no profit other than the EU payments.

The IFA have embarked on a 'save the sucklers' campaign and other groups are choosing to heap the ills of the beef industry on top of the offspring from the dairy herd. The problems in the beef industry are not of the dairyman's making.

The factories, with the aid of feedlots, control the Irish market and they are at pains to tell us about the limitations of the smaller cuts on the dairy cross carcase.

However, from what I can see, medium size steak and high quality, low-fat mince is the most commonly used beef product now due to the range of modern dishes based on it and the speed with which it can be cooked.

In milk, creamery prices fluctuate wildly now based on global trends and a multiplicity of factors from grain prices, oil prices, tariffs and global supplies.

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Ultimately it is the difference between the price we receive and the cost of production that determines profitability. With liquid milk we can see a bit clearer the power of retailers and the manner in which they are given freedom by our legislators to sell at or below cost.

We live in a period of almost zero food inflation.

This is ensured by the large retailers who control the Irish market and it is a similar scenario internationally.

The average Irish family, spend just over 10pc of their disposable income on food, which incidentally is less than the spend on entertainment.

This is possible because food essentials - be it milk, bread or vegetables - are often used as bait to get footfall into the shop where customers will then buy other items with good margins.

The root of farmers' problems stem from powerful retailers and purchasers with excessive power imposing unfair trading practises on us - and doing so while our legislators turn a blind eye to their actions.

The sooner unfair trading practices are outlawed at EU level the better for all farmers.

Scanning results

On the farming front cows are producing about normal for October. Current figures are SR 3.7, AFC 1029 or 270 per cow. Milk is 16 litres at 5.25 fat 4.20 protein 1.55 kg/ms/daily and feeding 3.5 kg meal.

Our annual production to the 30th of September was 360 kg/cow 1330 per MP/HA and we have fed 700 kg/cow.

We scanned the cows and showed up 9.5pc empty which is a relief because I was a bit concerned due to the heatwave at AI time. In general though I am finding this autumn to be more of a balancing act than normal.

We still have a small winter feed deficit but a bigger issue at present is that we have maybe 50 surplus in-calf heifers. We know there is a feed deficit on a lot of farms and many others who will get by with extra purchased meal or forage stretchers.

Based on higher merchant credit than normal, up 37pc according to one co-op manager I was talking to last week, we must assume there are cash flow problems looming also.

Sterling weakness, Brexit and feed deficits have also removed the UK buyers from the market. We may have to activate a different plan to find a solution to the surplus animals this year such as culling a bit harder perhaps.

We were intending to milk the empty cows OAD on silage and 6 kg of meal till December so now we will also reconsider this option.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son, Enda, and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran

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