Stand 1: Choosing the system for your farm
A number of different suckler beef and dairy beef systems were profiled on the first stand. The beef system operated, and the ‘intensity’ at which it is farmed, will depend on a number of factors including labour availability, facilities, land area and type, and economics.
The Irish beef industry is dominated by part-time farmers and this has a huge effect on the type of system chosen on specific farms.
Of the production systems analysed, net margin per hectare was greatest for systems finishing at the end of the second grazing season.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were lowest for dairy calf-to-beef systems and for systems finishing cattle at younger ages. On the suckler side, producing weanlings for sale at nine months of age had the lowest profitability of €309/ha with GHG emissions of 11.5 kg CO2e.
Purchasing suckler weanlings at nine months and finishing at 21 months at the end of the second grazing season had the highest net margin of €1,096/ha and GHG emissions of 14.3 kg CO2e.
Paul Crosson summed up the first stand by saying that in dairy-beef systems “a very high level of pasture management is required if we are to hit the very ambitious target of finishing animals at the end of the second grazing season. Finishing animals earlier makes both economic and environmental sense”
Stand 2: Performance targets for beef production
On stand 2 Teagasc researchers and specialists outlined the importance of high animal performance and its effect on profitability and GHG emissions.
A major source of inefficiency in beef cattle production systems is failure to meet performance targets.
Achieving high animal performance is critical if animals are to be slaughtered younger.
Where key performance targets are not met, this has large negative ramifications for the profitability and environmental footprint of beef production systems. Animal growth rate is a significant driver of beef farm profitability and is largely a function of feed quality and quantity, animal genetics and herd health.
Stand 3: Achieving performance targets
On stand 3 Teagasc outlined the key factors that affect performance such as genetics, health, grassland management and nutrition. Improving soil fertility and correct management of grazing swards to maximise liveweight gain are some of the most important aspects of achieving high animal performance. Nicky Byrne outlined how over 50% of heifers slaughtered in Ireland could be classified as being overfat along with one-third of steers. He said regular drafting and handling of animals is key in reducing slaughter age. He also said the new Commercial Beef Value (CBV) index will be central in identifying profitable animals for finishing systems in the future.
Stand 4: Dealing with increased costs
Alan Dillon and Laurence Shalloo said increased fertiliser, concentrate, veterinary and contracting costs will see a 40% increase in the cost of production on suckler and dairy-beef systems in 2022.
The Teagasc analysis sees the cost per kilo liveweight in a dairy calf-to-beef system rise from €1.85/kg to €2.53/kg (37%), while the same cost for a suckler system rises from €1.96/kg to €2.70/kg (38% increase). This sees dairy-beef systems rise from €3.62/kg to €4.95/kg carcase weight, while in suckler systems the cost moves from €3.56/kg to €4.92/kg.
Soil testing, clover, silage quality and finishing contracts were all discussed as strategies to reduce costs in 2022.
A huge amount of credit must go to Teagasc and all its staff for the amount of effort and the information available to farmers on the day.
I spoke to some visiting English farmers who were in awe of the facility and the expertise which is available free to Irish farmers.
Speaking to farmers at the end of Tuesday’s open day, the mood was good. People enjoyed the day and were glad to be back out at farm events.
We’ve had a few months of relatively good beef prices and there was little talk about where input prices are at or the uncertainty around Brexit, trade deals or recent beef price movement.
Some questions have been asked about some of the messages relayed to farmers on the day. Beef farming isn’t a one-size-fits-all business and the range of different systems is complicated to summarise. Teagasc tried to cover all bases but some thought some of the key messages were missed.
Regardless of all the talk around the extensification of beef farms and falling suckler cow numbers, the message from Teagasc is clear, and that’s drive on.
All of the systems profiled on Stand 1 were in derogation territory over 170kg organic N/ha. Is this applicable to part-time farmers operating weanling systems in the west of Ireland?
When finishing systems are analysed on a per-head basis, earlier slaughter is key to reducing emissions, but on a per-hectare basis, more animals in these earlier slaughtering systems means higher GHG emissions per hectare.
The lack of any analysis of the effect the next round of CAP reform will have on beef farms was disappointing. Teagasc will argue that CAP reform isn’t its area and it can’t become involved in politics but it’s the elephant in the room at the moment.
Farmers who signed up to the Teagasc message of higher stocking rate and higher output over the last 20 years will be hardest hit and Teagasc has failed to come up with a plan for beef farmers to recoup this lost income through CAP reform.
Absence of bull beef
The distinct lack of any bull beef option on the main stands was also evident and noted by farmers on the day.
The meat industry has spoken and Teagasc seems to have duly parked bulls as an option on beef farms. This is in spite of the fact that they could be one of the most profitable systems to employ on a beef farm and also come with the huge benefit of being one of the lowest systems in terms of GHG emissions.
If the dairy industry decided next week that milk produced from spring-calving grass-based systems didn’t meet the spec required, would Teagasc Moorepark conform as quick?
There was also some concern from farmers on adopting a flat beef price from January to December in the Teagasc analysis. If more farmers adopt a 20-month finishing system finishing animals off grass at the end of the second grazing season, what effect would this have on price?
Finally, numerous stands refereed to the newly launched Commercial Beef Value (CBV), a selection tool for non-breeding beef cattle focused on carcase and feed efficiency traits that will identify the most profitable cattle for a finishing system. The only problem is that at the moment ICBF haven’t sanctioned the displaying of the CBV value on mart boards. Without DNA verification of animals, one wonders if it will deliver or could it be minefield for farmers dealing with incorrect sires.
There appears to be some resistance from the dairy industry to endorse the new index, with some citing how crossbred genetics affect dairy beef profitability as an issue.
Beef farmers need this information, but it needs to be correct. DNA calf registration is the only way we can guarantee that.