Over 300 farmers attended a meeting in Carrick-on-Shannon on Tuesday night to discuss the recent changes to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) terminal and replacement indices.
The much anticipated update was delayed by one week after breed societies expressed concerns about lack of communication with farmers from the ICBF.
Late last week, the Irish Pedigree Breeders Council went so far as to vote on taking out a court injunction against the roll-out of the updated figures.
The proposal got the support of three breed societies - the Irish Charolais Cattle Society, the Irish Simmental Cattle Society and the Irish Blonde d'Aquitaine society.
The updated top 10 bull lists sees big gains for the Aberdeen Angus breed, which now occupy six of the top 10 positions on the replacement index, up from two in the last evaluation run in September.
The terminal list is dominated by Charolais and Limousin bulls, with Belgian Blues being the biggest loser on the terminal list. They held six positions on the top 10 terminal list in the September run - they now drop to just two.
ICBF geneticist Ross Evans said that issues with maternal calving difficulty led to the Belgian Blue breed being downgraded on this run.
The Simmental breed has also been hit hard, with just three Simmental bulls now in the top 50 replacement index bulls.
Tuesday night’s meeting heard from the ICBF's Sean Coughlan and Ross Evans, and Teasgasc's Donagh Berry and Paul Crosson on why the changes are coming about.
Following the presentations, a heated discussion took place, with some very angry farmers in the audience who fired questions at the top table on the changes.
Coughlan and his top table answered the questions in a controlled and calm manner, but that failed to calm the mood in the room.
Roscommon suckler farmer Bernard Donohoe makes a passionate plea from the floor for ICBF to change their ways and bring farmers with them on their journey instead of ignoring the strong messages from the room tonight. @farmersjournal @FJBeef pic.twitter.com/sh49yDNZFQ— Adam Woods (@ajwwoods) November 28, 2023
Roscommon suckler farmer Bernard Donohoe made a passionate plea from the floor for the ICBF to communicate better with farmers on the changes.
“[The] ICBF need[s] to start listening to farmers. Without farmers, ye won’t make progress, so for god sake change your ways or we’ll go nowhere," he said.
Others expressed their frustration at individual suckler cows dropping in their herds, while some said they were genuinely contemplating their future in the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP) in light of this week’s changes.
Roscommon suckler farmer Tommy Daly referred to the current SCEP scheme as a “scam”, giving his experience in his own herd of higher indices and values to dairy-cross progeny versus suckler-bred progeny.
There was severe criticism of the board of the ICBF and its makeup, which is predominantly made up of dairy farmers.
Leitrim farmer Maureen Tully attacked the current farmer representatives on the board of the ICBF, who, in her opinion, were “asleep at the wheel” when it came to representing suckler farmers.
Questions were also raised about the accuracy of the TB data being used in the updated index and the price of weanlings being used for different breeds and different levels of quality in the index.
Things are getting heated here in Carrick on Shannon. A few very frustrated farmers asking questions and not happy with answers they are getting. Farmers have bred cows to sires this summer which they say will no longer be eligible under SCEP. @farmersjournal @FJBeef pic.twitter.com/qrBYmUOyRS— Adam Woods (@ajwwoods) November 28, 2023
Weanling system worry
The meeting, which was attended by farmers from all across the west of Ireland, heard some genuine concerns at the direction of cattle breeding in the country, with many expressing a worry for the future of top-quality weanling production systems.
Addressing the concerns, Sean Coughlan said: “There will be no need for any farmer to change their preferred breed if they don’t wish to. Continental breeding has dominated suckler systems and it will continue to in the future.”
During the meeting, farmers were becoming more and more restless and this culminated in a proposal of a vote of no confidence being proposed by Sligo farmer Gerard Pilkington in the top table, which was taken via a show of hands, with the majority of the room putting their hands up.
Leitrim Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) chair Liam Gilligan, who organised the meeting, closed it by asking Sean Coughlan to take some of the messages from the meeting and act on them.
“I am asking [the] ICBF to make a special dispensation for the suckler farmers participating in SCEP."
Suckler farmers can check how the changes to the indices brought in on Tuesday will affect their herds by logging into their Herdplus account on www.icbf.com.