Given the furore that has arisen in recent days over Teagasc director Gerry Boyle’s comments on dairy beef, it was always going to be the first question of the night - whether Minister McConalogue agrees with Prof Boyle’s comments on dairy beef last week.
“I think we need to look at the bigger picture and the importance of beef, whether it’s dairy beef or suckler beef, everyone uniting in terms of the industry. It’s important we look at the options that farmers have and very much respecting those,” Minister McConalogue said in an exclusive live interviewwith the Irish Farmers Journal on Tuesday evening.
“The comments [by Prof Boyle] in the last week have been very much framed in the context of suckler beef v dairy beef but we need to be very clear that suckler beef plays a massive role in our national agricultural model. It’s something we do massively well and it’s something we will continue to do massively well.
“We also have to be open to the opportunities that are there in dairy beef. There is a big challenge there for the dairy sector to up the quality and the beef index of the progeny coming off the dairy herd,” he said.
“Sexed semen will pay a role in this but this will work alongside the suckler sector which will continue to be the anchor of our beef industry,” the minister added.
The minister said that the comments by Prof Boyle this week about Teagasc advising farmers to shift from suckler beef to dairy beef were not discussed in advance.
“Prof Boyle is well able to speak for himself and is a man with tremendous experience in the agri-food sector and he has done a tremendous job leading Teagasc over the last number of years,” the minister said.
However, he reassured suckler farmers: “I have to be very clear in my commitment to the suckler herd and when we formulate the next CAP the suckler cow will be central to that.”
Nonetheless, he added: “I do think to look at the options that are there in terms of dairy beef.”
When asked about the research on dairy beef being more profitable, the minister said work was ongoing but that he was disappointed that more work wasn’t taking place on the dairy side.
“The beef credentials of the animals are very important and I think that sexed semen will have a big role to play there.”
In a move that will be welcomed by many farmers, the minister acknowledged the importance of providing farmers with as much information as possible as part of the CAP consultation process.
He said financial modelling has been completed by his department and that this modelling will demonstrate the flow of money in and out of different sectors. He said the information will be published as part of the CAP consultation process.
Referring to the debacle in which BEAM clawbacks were taken from farmers’ ANC payments without prior notice, the minister said what happened wasn’t acceptable and that he was very annoyed at what happened.
“Good communication is very important and those payments and how they are delivered is crucial. Every department will make a mistake and it’s important that those mistakes are admitted and those farmers will all be getting letters apologising for the manner in which that money was taken from them.”