'Small farmers won't survive... we can't all switch to dairying'

 

Price watch: These 354 Kg Charolais made €700 during last week's Kilkenny Mart sales. Photo Kevin Byrne Photography
Price watch: These 354 Kg Charolais made €700 during last week's Kilkenny Mart sales. Photo Kevin Byrne Photography
Des Conroy
Des Crothier
Eamonn Phelan
Joe Delaney
Martin Birch
Tom Rochford

Storm Powell travelled to Kilkenny Mart to hear farmers' views on the Climate Change Advisory Council's proposal to reduce cattle numbers, the ongoing beef protests and Brexit

Tom Rochford

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Johnstown, Co Kilkenny

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Tom Rochford

Tom farms "cattle and corn" on 150ac at Grange Fertagh. On recent proposals to reduce the national beef herd by up to 1.5 million head of cattle, Tom says: "For years, we have been supporting schemes to increase the quality of beef and this proposal will encourage the production of inferior quality dairy beef cattle. The reduction should include the dairy sector and compensation should be available."

Tom hasn't taken part in the Beef Plan Movement's protests. "Protests are not the best option as they are pulling farmer against farmer - some want to sell cattle and others are protesting. We need more dialogue between the main parties."

On Brexit, Tom asks: "Is the unknown fear factor being used as an excuse to drop prices?"

He worries about trade in Northern Ireland, the uncertainty of Border control and the subsequent risk of disease. Tom plans to cut back cattle numbers and increase tillage. "The best bet for beef farmers is to lease land to the dairy man but this will destroy farming for the next generation."

Des Conroy

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Stradbally, Co Laois

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Des Conroy

47-year-old Des is an extensive beef farmer from Dysart, farming 1,000ac. "If the national herd is cut by significant numbers, it will cost a lot of jobs in the farming sector and in factories. Compensation to reduce numbers should come in the form of an attractive voluntary redundancy package. The day of hobby farming has gone. Farming is a business now and the farmer has to go where money takes them. If this means increased dairy farming, so be it."

Though Des didn't attend the beef protests, he says: "Farmers have a right to protect themselves if poor prices are affecting their livelihoods and the future of their families."

On Brexit, Des says: "Losing our biggest export market would have a huge detrimental effect. The Irish Government should have waited till Brexit was finalised before they sought compensation from the EU. €50m will not be enough; closer to €500m will be required."

Martin Birch

Jenkinstown, Co Kilkenny

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Martin Birch

Martin is a dairy and cattle farmer on 140ac. As a dairy farmer, it suits Martin if the herd reduction takes place within the suckler sector, "but it doesn't seem fair to sacrifice one area. We will need to get a lump sum per animal to compensate reduced numbers".

Martin, who is getting out of sucklers to increase his dairy herd, says: "Farmers will have to move from sucklers to cows - there doesn't seem to be an alternative." He didn't go to the beef protests but says, "farmers have to stand up for their rights, and the protests highlight the plight of the beef man. The uncertainty of Brexit is an influencing factor".

Joe Delaney

Ballycallan, Co Kilkenny

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Joe Delaney

"Any reduction in cattle numbers should be spread across the beef and dairy sectors," says Joe who is a full-time suckler farmer on 100ac. He questions the long-term effect on climate change by reducing numbers. "We are fairly small in the overall scheme of things and beef here is a minimal risk compared to cattle coming from South America."

While supporting the Beef Plan Movement in principle, Joe says: "Protesting at factories is not going to solve the crisis," Joe says. "Dairy beef is the future. Suckler margins are so limited that people must exist on the single farm payment. This is a ridiculous way to run an enterprise. Realistically, the day of getting high prices for quality animals has gone."

Joe has begun to contract-rear dairy calves. "I am not certain that Brexit will ever happen," says Joe, who predicts a general election and possibly a second referendum in the UK.

Eamonn Phelan

Jenkinstown, Co Kilkenny

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Eamonn Phelan

Eamonn has a dairy and store cattle enterprise on 150ac in Tullowglass. He can't understand why the beef sector is being singled out for herd reduction numbers. "There are increasingly fewer beef animals in the country. We will end up with Friesian types. Suckler beef should not be singled out. This will particularly affect the small producer. Surely the exhaust fumes on the M50 are emitting a lot more gas than any beef herd?

"The farmer should be allowed to continue to produce good clean food. The situation should be looked at globally. Rain forests in South America are being cut down and we are being encouraged to grow more forestry. We are adhering to rules and regulation, but is the Mercosur meat subject to such scrutiny?"

Though Eamonn didn't attend the beef protests, he says: "It's important to highlight the situation but protests block the intake of animals, hindering the flow of slaughtering and creating a backlog."

On the current political situation in the UK, he says: "Our biggest concern is the possibility of cheaper food imports into the UK which will affect our markets there."

Des Crothier

Nurney, Co Carlow

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Des Crothier

Retired farmer Des (77) handed over his dry stock farm at Knockbower to his sons over 10 years ago but still regularly buys cattle at the mart. Des would not like to see reductions in suckler numbers. "We need the quality of the suckler herd," he says, "a percentage reduction from each sector would be the fairest and an annual payment per animal of €200-a-head up to six years is needed for every animal reduced."

Des isn't a supporter of protests. "It leaves a backlog of stock. I prefer to see negotiations around the table."

On Brexit, he says: "It is causing a lot of uncertainty - you don't know whether to buy or sell stock. Small farmers won't survive, the dairy man is being promoted but we can't all switch to dairying as the market would be oversupplied and the quality of beef would greatly suffer."

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