Speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture yesterday, December 18th, IFA President Joe Healy spoke of the many challenges facing the Irish Suckler sector, such as CAP, Brexit, Mercosur negotiations, prices and more, but he noted that the biggest challenge facing Suckler farmers is low farm incomes.
He made the comments in reference to the latest data from Teagasc on farm incomes in 2018, which found that the average farm income for cattle rearing is only €10,175, a decrease of 19%. Mr. Healy says this is simply not sustainable and called for a better, more supportive, policy from the government for the suckler cow sector.
As part of the IFA campaign to secure additional targeted direct payments of €200 per suckler cow, President Healy says the organisation retained the services of the eminent agricultural economist, Professor Thia Hennessey, Head of the Cork University Business School in University College Cork.
Professor Hennessy and her team then undertook a full assessment and overview of the Suckler beef sector in Ireland and produced a comprehensive report in August 2018 entitled The Economic and Societal Importance of the Irish Suckler Beef Sector.
The Main findings of the report are as follows:
1) The beef sector accounts for over one-third of all agricultural output and over 20 percent or €2.6bn of Irish Exports.
2) The suckler cow herd of 900,000 is distributed throughout the country, but is particularly dominating in the West of Ireland.
3) Suckler cows account for over 80% of all cows in the West, with the figure in excess of 90% in some counties.
4) 77,738 specialist cattle farms spend over €1.5bn annually on agri-inputs, most of which is spent in the local rural economy.
5) A €1m increase in the beef sector output would generate a further €2.11m in the wider economy and support an additional 16 jobs. The comparative figure for the agriculture sector more generally is €1.44m. Previous research has estimated that every €1 of direct payments to cattle farmers supports €4.28 of output in the wider economy.
6) Suckler farmers contribute to wider societal sustainability, particularly as they are often located in marginal or economically disadvantaged areas, where their presence is vital to the social fabric and cultural capital.
7) Suckler farmers produce public goods such as protection of the environment and biodiversity and the preservation of the landscape and unique features such as stone walls and hedgerows all of which positively contribute to the image of rural Ireland and rural tourism.
The National Livestock Chairman of the IFA, Angus Woods, said farmers need a much stronger and more supportive policy from the Government for the suckler cow sector and called for the maintenance of the Suckler cow herd in Ireland, which he called “vitally important”.
He said that in order for this to be achieved, the targeted direct payment of €200 per cow is required. The IFA Say a major price premium for Suckler beef is also needed, while also noting that a strong live export trade would also help drive competition.