There has been a huge reaction to Teagasc director Gerry Boyle’s comments about Teagasc “strongly advocating” a switch from suckler beef production to dairy beef production systems.
The director said his comments were based on research by Teagasc. Some confusion has arisen as to what research the director was referring to.
One area to look at is the Teagasc 2027 sectoral roadmap for beef, authored by Dr Paul Crossan, beef enterprise leader at Teagasc Grange, and Pearse Kelly, head of the drystock knowledge transfer department.
The sectoral roadmaps are an important part of Teagasc research and inform both industry and farmers as to the direction that Teagasc researchers and specialists think that each sector will take for the next seven years.
The current roadmaps were published 10 months ago in December 2020. The roadmap makes a number of assumptions and predictions.
The authors predict that there will be a small reduction in the number of farms with beef cattle in 2027 and also forecast the number of suckler beef cows continuing to decline between now and 2027.
The roadmap predicts an increase in the number of farms rearing and finishing calves from the dairy herd, with some farms switching from suckling to these systems.
The negative impact of the contraction in the suckler herd will be offset by the increased supply of calves from the dairy herd as it continues to grow.
The authors also make note of an important point, namely that for dairy beef systems to be successful, better integration of dairy and beef farm decision-making needs to take place with regard to selection for beef traits.
The roadmap puts an emphasis on the importance of environmental considerations
The report also highlights the continuation of live calf exports to continental European markets as critical in managing the supply of calves on the Irish market.
The roadmap puts an emphasis on the importance of environmental considerations. It goes on to say that reducing net greenhouse gas emissions on Irish beef farms will be one of the key priorities in the coming years
Table 1 outlines the technical and financial performance for suckler calf-to-beef production operating a steer and heifer finishing system.
The research model takes into account a high level of efficiency across all the models for both suckler beef production systems and dairy-beef production systems, comparing like with like so to speak.
Performance targets within the research models take into account some assumptions. Beef price is set at €3.75/kg. Meal/concentrate cost is set at €265/t. In terms of fertiliser costs, protected urea has been set at €400/t, while CAN has been set at €300/t.
The high stocking rate scenario, ranging from 2.6 LU/ha-3.0/LU, is very high for any beef farm and questionable in terms of its delivery, especially on marginal land
Dairy beef systems and suckler beef systems are compared on high stocking rate scenarios and low stocking rate scenarios.
Table 1 outlines the dairy calf-to-beef systems as a 22-month steer and a 19-month heifer. The high stocking rate scenario, ranging from 2.6 LU/ha-3.0/LU, is very high for any beef farm and questionable in terms of its delivery, especially on marginal land.
These highly stocked systems require between 9.5t and 10.6t DM/ha. Based on a utilisation of 75%, this would mean these farms would need to grow between 12.5t and 14t DM grass/ha, a figure very few beef farms would be able to hit. This level of grass growth would also require close to 200kg nitrogen/ha.
It remains unclear what research Gerry Boyle was referring to in his comments about dairy beef v suckler beef. The Teagasc roadmaps outline clearly that suckler beef, when operated at a high level of technical efficiency, is more profitable than dairy beef. Suckler systems also have a higher percentage of forage in the diet and a lower amount of concentrates required to finish animals.
When you go to very high stocking rates that require derogation, dairy beef comes out better, but given the makeup of the Irish beef herd, you have to question the appetite for derogation stocking rates.
It is mind-boggling
You would also question the merits of running these very high stocking rates on part-time farms.
The average carcase weight in the 19-month heifer is low at 240kg. This would mean a percentage of these animals would fall out of spec, missing out on breed bonuses and other related bonuses.
The Teagasc roadmaps identify suckler beef as being more profitable at a lower stocking rate, with higher forage in the diet, less chemical fertiliser and lower concentrates. It is mind-boggling how Prof Boyle saw fit to “strongly advocate” a switch to dairy beef systems when Teagasc’s own research says something completely different.