Farmers to be compensated when a carcase is excessively trimmed
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has said he understands a payment will be made to a farmer in any case where a trim fine was applied to a particular carcase.

In cases where a carcase has been excessively trimmed, it is understood that the farmer affected will be informed by the factory and the farmer will be compensated.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said it was his understanding that “processors will introduce a payment to the farmer supplier to reflect any loss”.

It comes following revelations that 19 non-compliances in relation to carcase trimming were detected in the course of 521 inspections by the Department of Agriculture in 2018.

Minister Creed said a payment would be made to a farmer in any case where a trim fine was applied to a particular carcase. The payment will be identified on the payment remittance docket, so that farmers will be aware of the penalty.

Dialogue

The minister said positive engagement through ongoing dialogue with the industry, both within the Beef Forum and directly with Meat Industry Ireland (MII), had played an important role.

He said that he understood MII accepted “no individual farmer should be at a loss from a mistake made in a factory” and as a result the payment would be introduced.

Transparency

During Dáil questions, Minister Creed was asked by Fianna Fáil spokesperson on agriculture Charlie McConalogue whether he would name the factories fined to ensure transparency in the process.

Minister Creed said identifying a payment made to a farmer as a result of one of their carcases being excessively trimmed would provide "the ultimate accountability".

He added that additional monitoring of beef carcases was on its way. “Carcase classification and carcase presentation controls in slaughter plants are carried out by a dedicated team of specialist staff in the beef carcase classification sSection within my Department," he said.

"Additional monitoring of carcase presentation by my Department’s veterinary public health inspection staff (VPHIS) in the factories is currently being rolled out.”

Fines

On the matter of fines imposed on processors for excessive trimming, Minister Creed said a €200 on-the-spot fine had been applied.

While the maximum fine that can be imposed is €5,000 or a six-month term of imprisonment he explained this could only be applied on summary conviction.

He said: “Recourse to this approach would preclude the possibility of an on-the-spot fine and conviction would require proof of intention beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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Pressure to lift the lid on factories

ICBF conference: ‘BDGP can deliver €540m in maternal gain’
At the ICBF genetics conference in Athlone this week, audience members were given a look at the past performance of the organisation and a glimpse into its future.

“Gaining traction in beef has been more difficult compared to dairy,” said Dr Tim Byrne who gave a presentation entitled "20 years of ICBF".

Dr Byrne, who now works as a genetics consultant for AbacusBio in Scotland but who previously worked on the design and implementation of breeding programmes within ICBF, showed that genetic gains within the dairy herd over the last 20 years have delivered an extra €4bn, with capacity to increase this by a further €2.85bn over the next decade.

Looking to the beef side, there also progress being made, but at a slower speed.

“From 2003 to 2017, genetic gains for beef terminal traits have exceeded €570m,” said Dr Byrne. “This equates to an extra €33 per suckler cow.”

However, while this benefit was been exploited through terminal genetics, maternal genetics were unfortunately suffering at the same time. Dr Byrne showed that “a decline in maternal traits cost the beef sector around €420m during the same period”.

However, having identified this as a critical problem, the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) was introduced to reverse the downward trajectory of maternal traits. While the scheme has come in for high levels of criticism among some groups of farmers, Dr Byrne outline that “the BDGP is set to deliver a €540m net gain to the beef sector through genetic improvement in maternal traits".

"This is an extra €49 per sucker cow,” he said.

Furthermore, he said: “20 years of a €10/year gain in the replacement index in the national herd has the potential to reduce suckler greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.”

Future

Sean Coughlan, CEO of ICBF and Sheep Ireland, gave a presentation on the future direction of the ICBF.

“We have set out four main goals in our strategic plan for the next five years,” he said.

Coughlan explained the first goal was to maximise genetic gain through collaboration and service provision.

“Breeding is a long-term game,” he said. “The decisions we make today are for the animals we are going to have in seven to 10 years’ time. We are very fortunate to have a high level of collaboration with industry already but we need to make sure it’s working. Also, as more data becomes available we need to publish it as best as we can.”

For those who don’t like change, they are going to like irrelevance even less

The second goal involved managing and developing the already enormous ICBF database. “The most important part of all of this is that we get as many farmers as possible to take up this service. We will be working with Teagasc to align on research and extension.”

The third goal was to increase farmer and industry engagement with the organisation while the final goal involved continually improving standards within the organisation to raise the company’s excellence.

To conclude, Coughlan delivered a very clear message: “This whole thing lives and dies on collaboration. For those who don’t like change, they are going to like irrelevance even less.”

ICBF conference: genetic influence on meat-eating quality
At the ICBF genetics conference on Wednesday, research on the link between genetics and meat quality was presented by Dr Michelle Judge of MTI.

“Research shows that the trait for carcase weight is 62% heritable. Likewise, carcase fat-score and carcase confirmation are 56% and 78% heritable, respectively.”

This was just part of data was presented by Dr Michelle Judge from Meat Technology Ireland at the inaugural ICBF genetics conference, which took place in Athlone on Wednesday.

Dr Judge explained that the goal of the research is to examine the effect genetics can have on meat quality and yield. Following on from that is the potential to predict the weight of primal cuts given by an animal through genetics alone.

“As a general rule of thumb, bigger animals will give bigger primal cuts and smaller animals will give smaller cuts,” she said. “What we are trying to identify is the potential to get bigger primal cuts from smaller carcases.”

Bearing in mind the heritability of carcase traits, Dr Judge then presented some preliminary results on tests she had carried out on cuts of meat.

Animals were ranked based on genetically-predicted performance from very-light cut-size to very-heavy cut-size. After actual results were obtained following slaughter, they showed rump cuts were 10% heavier in the very-heavy ranking group compared to the very-light ranking group. Similarly, striploin cuts were 12% heavier and fillet cuts were 7% heavier. All carcases were of adjusted to the same weight.

Bielgrange farm crowned the 2018 AgriScot scotch beef farm of the year
Adam Woods visited AgriScot in Edinburgh where the winner of the AgriScot scotch beef farm of the year award was announced.

AgriScot scotch beef farmers of the year, Niall and James Jeffrey run two spring calving herds across three farms – Bielgrange farm, a 740 acre lowland unit and Weatherly farm, a 600 acre upland farm where they run 250 Aberdeen Angus cross sucklers bringing all cattle to finish. The family also contract farm 160 Aberdeen-Angus cross suckler cows at Hall's farm.

The Jeffreys calve cows from March to May indoors and outdoors and then move to grazing from mid-April where they graze a paddock system to achieve maximum utilisation of grass and lower the costs of the operation.

An EID system is in place on the farms, with all calves being EID tagged at birth – something the judges where particularly impressed with. In an effort to reduce stress, calves are weaned outside before being housed on a wintering pad and fed during the store period a diet of straw, barley and sugar beet pulp. They then graze from April to July before being housed from August to finish at 16-18 months.

Judge’s Comments

The judges for the award were Robert Neill, AgriScot chair, Douglas Bell from Quality Meat Scotland and Robert Fleming, Agriscot scotch beef farm of the year winner in 2017.

Neill said: “It is important that AgriScot showcases the best of beef production in Scotland and we are delighted to recognise these top of the range producers.”

As well as evidence of a high standard of technical and financial performance, the competition judges assessed the farms for evidence of the uptake of new ideas to improve efficiency and profitability and whether the businesses had an eye on the market for its finished product.

The farms were also assessed on the enthusiasm of the farmer and others involved in the business to efficiently produce high-quality animals and in turn high-quality beef.