Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

We'll give beef grading system the benefit of the doubt

Oliver McDonnell

Blue skies and a bright wintry sun have been shining over our countryside for the past few weeks and, while this is beautiful to behold, it is beginning to pose its own unique problems for us. Such weather is lovely for a few days, and we enjoy it, but it is becoming somewhat tedious as we struggle with the day-to-day management of ice on the farm.

As we herald in a white New Year and a new IFA president, I would like to take this opportunity to wish John Bryan lots of luck during his tenure. We are currently living in challenging times and face an uphill battle if we are to achieve an improvement in farming conditions. To date, us farmers have suffered a 30pc reduction in our incomes over the past two years and this situation simply cannot be sustained. There isn't another occupation in the country that would tolerate such losses.

The worst part of it all is the ignorance and total lack of care displayed by those in power. Their inaction has contributed to the whole agricultural sector being allowed to teeter on the point of survival, and this at a time when there is a growing worldwide shortage of food.

Across the enterprises there are reductions in production in Ireland and in the EU, but we here in Ireland have suffered most. Once lost, production becomes difficult to regain and we are in a situation where it will become virtually impossible for indigenous EU farmers to recover such lost production. A door once opened to imports is not easily closed. We must ask ourselves if we really want our food to come from countries outside Europe, especially from those where the standards of production are inferior to ours.

However, we have no level playing field in the EU. All countries within the EU sector are ideally suited to the production of food in various forms, but bureaucracy has stacked the odds against us. I have never swallowed the argument that world markets dictate price. This is only part of the problem. The rest of the problem lies rooted in greed, by both the middle industry involved in food product buying and processing and the supermarkets, whose power and greed knows no bounds and is uncontrolled.

Here in Ireland, sheep and suckler and dairy cow numbers have reduced very considerably as a direct result of the difficulties in farming over the past two years, and it is doubtful if we will meet our milk quota allocation. Fair play to those in the sheep sector who've stayed the course. At least their perseverance is finally being rewarded. Hopefully, the better prices at present will continue to reflect modern times. This is necessary if the industry is to be saved from permanent collapse.

Yet another crisis appears to be bearing down on the beef industry -- this time due to the new, controversial grading system. Only time will prove the benefits or otherwise of this new system but, as it stands right now, the base price is far too low and, as such, farmers will be the losers again. For now we will give it the benefit of the doubt and allow time to tell the tale. The mind boggles, however, at 14 grading levels.

We had to test the beef cattle on the out farm last week. This test was overdue and we were tempted to cancel, given the prevailing weather conditions and the fact that I had spent the previous two days in bed with flu, but we decided against it.

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The cattle sheds surround the yard and the cattle yard was relatively safe since we had bought several bags of salt and had spreaded it throughout the yard each day. This little job was necessary because the ice and snow had got to the stage where tractors could not easily move around -- it was a case of buying salt or risk damaging buildings and machinery.

Since we plan to start selling in March, the timing for the test was really convenient.

Thankfully the snow and ice haven't presented many major problems for us other than frozen water pipes. Time here is the biggest factor but at least we can deal with the situation.

Christmas Day and St Stephen's Day were the worst as we could not thaw out the pipes at all, especially in the calf units, which meant the calves on the home farm and Laurence's had to be manually fed. This job prevented everyone from taking the extra time off that had been planned and worked towards during the previous few days.

The important thing to remember here is to ensure that every drop of water is drained out. Indeed, this winter has, so far, highlighted the advantages of having the cow housing and milking parlour under the one roof, which means our cows are not exposed to the dangers of slipping and getting injured on slippy and ice-packed yards.

Irish Independent

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