After what could be described as a turbulent few weeks in terms of suckler breeding and indexes, the ICBF has finally set a date for the first stakeholder forum, which will take place on Thursday, 1 February, from 10am until 1pm. Invitations have been sent to all interested parties this week for the three-hour meeting, which will take place next week. Former Department of Agriculture official Paul Dillon will chair.

The meeting will include presentations from Ross Evans from ICBF and Paul Crossan from Teagasc, on the changes to the indexes and why they came about. Two representatives from pedigree breed societies, farm organisations, AI companies and other stakeholders have all received their invitations.

However, following a pedigree breeders council meeting held two weeks ago, the participation of breed societies in the ICBF forum remains in doubt. The pedigree breeders council is the umbrella body which represents 16 different breed societies in Ireland.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal Sean Sherman, chair of the Pedigree Cattle Breeders Council of Ireland, said: “We had what would be described as a very positive meeting with all the breed societies. A number of breed societies have expressed their concerns about the ICBF’s lack of engagement and willingness to change, and breeders want more. There are some very strong opinions on the council and sure my task is to represent them all and make sure everybody gets a fair deal when it comes to their breed. That isn’t easy sometimes. The Christmas break gave everybody a chance to calmly analyse the figures and see where we are going.”

Sean went on to say that pedigree breeders find it hard to communicate with ICBF because of the diversity of opinions that exists. Breed societies are offered four technical meetings annually, which are well attended by breed societies.

“There are huge concerns with breed societies and while we want to engage with ICBF, it’s difficult if we don’t get delivery on a few key items,” Sean said. “One of these items is the cow weight issue and how it is giving unfair disadvantage to any breed. Pedigree breeders do accept that the very heavy cows aren’t where we want to be either, but there is a happy medium that we have to reach,” Sean said.

Sean Sherman (right). \ Odhran Ducie

Breed societies in their best wisdom go to other countries to source new genetics to further improve their genepool. The current situation in relation to these imported stock is that they start on the floor in terms of ICBF indexes and a lot of breed societies find this unacceptable. They are asking that ICBF would see fit that these animals would be placed at a breed average figure, until such a time that they have enough data in the system to determine their own index.

The third change that pedigree breeders are asking to take place before any talks are entered into is in relation to carbon.

“While we acknowledge that carbon is in everybody’s vocabulary at the moment, the reality of the matter is that farmers are neither paid or charged on carbon, so how can we put a value on it. We feel that this is a blunt instrument being applied to the replacement index and we want it taken out of the main index.”

The current stance of the pedigree breeder’s council is that it cannot participate in any talks or stakeholder meetings until the issues which it has raised are addressed.

“I think we all need to take a step back and take a look at where we are in relation to schemes. We could have only 25% of our suckler farmers participating in SCEP and that’s not a success in my mind and we need to see how we can engage more with the farmers who haven’t opted for SCEP.

There is also a concern that the current SCEP has divided pedigree breeders in that the majority of traditional breeders haven’t been governed as much by SCEP targets as continental breeds. Suckler farmers in SCEP have to purchase four- or five-star bulls and this feeds back to pedigree breeders and the type of bull that they are breeding. You have to breed for stars if you want a SCEP eligible bull. This hampers the choice of bulls that continental breeders can use in their herds,” Sean said.

“Nobody is saying that we should turn our back on figures. The calves per cow, per year figure should be a lot higher in our national suckler herd and the current national average figure of 0.87 needs to be better, and we accept that. Revenue is different to profit and we need to be mindful of that. A €1,500 weanling/yearling generates a lot of revenue, but if it costs a lot of money to get him to the point of sale, it doesn’t generate a lot of profit.

“For the last 30 years, suckler farmers have been the backbone of rural Ireland and when you think about it, huge progress has been made on suckler farms in relation to breeding and we can’t lose that at the altar of dairy calves.

“We can’t lose sight of the importance of our suckler industry and the suckler beef farmers of tomorrow wouldn’t forgive us if we did.

“Pedigree breeders fully understand that we need suckler farming to have a bright future for pedigree breeders to stay relevant. Pedigree breeders acknowledge that changes have to be made, but they don’t accept that people have to go out of business to implement these changes.”