“Beef farming was never a profit-making system”


Suckler cow numbers are declining rapidly and unless the sector is protected, Ireland will have no quality beef left in the country, writes Michael Danagher.

“Beef farming was never a profit-making system”

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Suckler cow numbers are declining rapidly and unless the sector is protected, Ireland will have no quality beef left in the country, writes Michael Danagher.

Michael Danagher (26) and his brother farm a herd of commercial cattle, finishing 60% of progeny on their Bord Bia Quality-Assured farm, while the remainder are sold at a local mart.

The duo re-established a pedigree Charolais under the ‘Derries’ prefix in 2017 which is operated on their 160-acre holding.

Michael is a qualified welder and ran a successful business until becoming a full-time farmer in 2016. The young Laois farmer – who contributes to That’s Farming weekly Beef Update series - shares his thoughts on the Irish suckler-beef sector

The outlook for 2019 isn’t too promising. With the factory prices and the high cost of finishing beef, it isn’t going to be viable for farmers to keep paying top money for weanlings.

As someone who also buys in drystock, I can understand why farmers are holding back - You’re not guaranteed to get your animals killed when they are ready which can result in additional costs by purchasing extra feed than planned.

As a young beef farmer, I am optimistic about the future; I am very passionate about the suckler sector.

On a beef farm, you’re always looking for ways to make extra money; I myself always keep other dry stock so I’m not solely relying on the suckler cows. Although this is not viable on a lot of suckler farms due to access to land ect, it’s very important to try have other animals on the farm to keep cash flow going throughout the year.

The Government and farm organisations

I think the government needs to act fast. Ireland has always had great pride in its beef and exporting it due to its quality. Suckler cow numbers are declining rapidly and unless the sector is protected, Ireland will have no quality beef left in the country.

We will be relying on poor quality dairy-bred beef for export which won’t be anything different from any other country. The high-quality beef produced from suckler cows in Ireland is. in my opinion. the best meat in the world for quality.

I haven’t joined Beef Plan Group as I believe that one small group discussion isn’t going to solve anything. A lot of suckler farmers are ready to give up and are planning on getting jobs. I think a lot of them need to re-think this as a lot of farmers will have to go and re-train before trying to join the workforce. Jobs are like suckler cows in Rural Ireland as both are declining.

I am of the opinion that farm organisations are useless; they seem to have no voice. I think the IFA (Irish Farmers’ Association) is a group that offers nothing to Irish farmers; they never seem to be able to put up a good enough argument to the Government and as far as I can see, they are only in it to line their own pockets.

€200/cow suckler payment and dairying

I am in favour of the €200/suckler cow payment, although I cannot see is happening anytime soon. I read numerous articles published by media and one, in particular, grabbed my attention.

It was a few weeks ago and he was telling suckler farmers to give up and make more land available to dairy farmers or contract rear heifers. That sort of thing won’t happen on this farm in my lifetime. The lack of support the suckler farmers are getting from these type of people is disheartening. Ireland’s beef sector is facing a large decline and I don’t know if even €200/cow can save it.

Challenges

The biggest challenge that exists is getting a price for bulls. With factories not even taking bulls, in some cases, having to hold onto bulls and continue to purchase meal is a challenge that could have been done without.

They should have been gone weeks ago but are still in the shed. Now with cows housed, calves space in the yard is becoming a problem which also means using more straw and silage than normal due to all the extra stock.

The only trouble I had was I couldn’t get a factory to take Friesian bulls so they are still in the shed and I have decided to keep them for the summer and castrate them.

Future Plans

I don’t plan on changing my system; Beef farming was never a profit-making system but I firmly believe a living can be made from it.

It is extremely tough but suckler cows are in the blood and no matter how bad the sector gets, they won’t be going anywhere. I’m proud to be producing top-quality Charolais weanlings and I believe that eventually, people will realise how valuable the sector is to the Irish economy.

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