Last week we heard the story of Ireland’s first consignment of live hereford beef making the long gruelling journey to start their new lives in Russia. Since then we have heard all the positives to come from this these deals, but has anybody ever stopped to think of the potential knock on effects?
This foreign trade, encouraged greatly by Bord bia, clearly has its benefits for the larger cattle dealers across the country. But what about the little man in this scenario? the small farmers whose only major pay day comes on the one day a year they sell some of their stock?
Angus Woods, Chairman of IFA livestock committee, insists this is a "positive development and welcomed for the sector" he also added it would add to much needed price competition. "There has been previous exports of Pedigree beef breeding stock to Russia and other Eastern countries which has provided a great boost to the price of pedigree breeding stock".
Last year an Bord bia estimated that 535 tonnes of beef worth 2.38billion euro was exported from our shores. This along with 145,000 live cattle exported worth approximately 100 million euros. Though these numbers are slightly higher than those produced by the central statistics office for 2016 (Live exports-125,000, beef-364.6 tonnes).
This to me points to one major flaw in this newly found interest in the exportation of live stock. In developing a multi million euro live beef trade industry we are potentially damaging a billion dollar industry.
As I am sure you have heard recently, Ireland has increased its beef exports to Japan, with China now set to follow suit following meetings between Chinese minister Zhi Schuping and Michael Creed.
This would surely mean a huge increase in beef exports, with Asia expected to count for 45% of beef trade by 2019. But as we are now increasing our live exportation numbers are we not also just creating future competition for ourselves in our main trade?
With Russia, and now Turkey also, buying in bulk some of the countries finest in calf Hereford heifers and pedigree Bulls, it is sure to create some problems. It becomes apparent that in future years, if these increases continue, Russia could become of one the world’s newest beef super powers. When questioned on the matter Angus Woods, of the IFA said "Russia are a huge market, with a huge import requirement, which was filled from South America in the past" he also added that they were "not self sufficient" in the industry, insisting they do not fear a future attempt by the Russians to start exporting beef.
Ireland is currently the world’s 5th largest exporter of beef in the world. We are famed worldwide for our quality of beef and to say it’s vital for the economy would be a gross understatement.
Bord bia insists “Live exports are critical for the industry”, but evidence already suggests this is far from the case. Although a very profitable sector, is it worth the potential
Recently due to the abolition of dairy quotas we have seen the number of beef coming from dairy farms increase dramatically. Teagasc estimated in 2015 that a 50% increase in milk production would lead to increased dairy herd numbers(approx 330k) and in turn an increased number of male dairy calves making their way into the beef industry (approx 150k). When questioned Angus Woods of the IFA insisted that the IFA "want to maintain that herd growth in dairy cow numbers" and said "it is not affecting suckler numbers".
I fear this will lead us to losing our high grade beef quality on offer, and as a result in a sense we risk losing our identity. These fears were quashed, temporarily at least, upon questioning Mr. Angus Woods on the matter, to which he informed me of the "significant growth in use of beef breeds in breeding with dairy animals" and that there was a "significant volume of beef coming off farms through schemes" which in turn means meat quality would not be affected. He also pointed to the changes in the live export industry, where there has been a huge increase in live calf exports (approx 75,000) to Spain, Belgium and Holland. A lot of this being dairy/beef crossbreeds.
Surely this puts further pressure on smaller suckler farms around the country as now there is yet more competition, this time from the dairy sector.
FAPRI Ireland recently made projections that suggested a decline in suckler cow numbers by up to 200,000 by 2030. This means yet again the little man is set to lose out.
Angus Woods, chariman of IFA, when questioned about potential dwindling suckler numbers said "nobody knows (if numbers wil decrease)...In order to maintain production levels and keep suckler farmers farming, the IFA are committed to maintaining numbers and have submitted various proposals to the government on the matter". He also added that "The IFA hope for the level of targetted direct payments for suckler herd numbers to increase by up to €200 per cow".
I understand the premise behind encouraging this renewed interest in live exportation. But I also think some things could have been done to protect our future selves, and our other beef exporting sector, from what could be a future problem for us.Not only could we be in direct competition with these countries but it may affect our beef prices also. In a sense we risk severely damaging one of our only billion euro industries, all for the development of a lesser industry.
I can safely say it is now out of our hands, and the futures of Irelands smallest beef farmers lies in the hands of the IFA.