Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle has come in for severe criticism from suckler farmers over comments he made at a Dublin Economics Workshop last week.

In relation to climate change and alternative production systems that farmers could employ on their farms, Professor Boyle said: “We are very strongly advocating, based on research, that we shift from beef cow production to what we call dairy beef production and that would be a massive change.”

When asked about future curtailment of the national herd, Boyle said it didn’t make sense to limit the growth in the profitable dairy sector and also that suckler cow numbers hadn’t dropped as much as Teagasc had anticipated based on profitability levels.

He added that this change from suckler to dairy beef would not be able to take place without significant fiscal policy change and substantial incentives for farmers to make the switch from suckler beef to dairy beef.

Brian Rushe, IFA deputy president and Teagasc board member, came out on Monday distancing himself from Boyle’s comments.

“As the IFA representative on the Teagasc board I have spoken directly to Gerry Boyle and the chair regarding the director’s comments last week. I expressed huge disappointment and frustration on behalf of myself as a board member, the IFA and all suckler farmers,” said Rushe.

“Gerry Boyle advised me that the [The Irish Times] article [on switching to dairy beef] did not accurately reflect his presentation. I asked that the director and Teagasc issue a statement clarifying their position. I want it to be absolutely clear that it is not my policy, the policy of IFA or the board of Teagasc’s policy to encourage farmers to switch from sucklers to dairy beef.”

There has been no statement from either Prof Boyle or Teagasc to date.


IFA livestock chair Brendan Golden said: “[It is] appalling that a senior industry figure would show such disregard for a farm sector that is unique in the scale of its significance in every county – 100,000 farmers are involved in beef production.

“To dismiss them in such a cavalier fashion shows very poor judgement.”

An emergency meeting of the farmer representatives of the Teagasc Beef Stakeholder Group was convened on Monday night.

Undermining industry

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, John Kehoe, chair of the group, said: “I am absolutely devastated by the comments made by Gerry Boyle last week. I think they undermine our beef industry.

“If you walked into any weanling sales this week, to see the men and women who have worked hard to get the animals to that point and to think that Teagasc are now saying that these men and women producing these weanlings are irrelevant.

“It’s all very sad.”

He added: “I’m shocked that nearly a week has passed and no one in Teagasc has made any statement on the comments which have undermined our industry.

“We have written to Teagasc chair Liam Herlihy to try and get some answers from Teagasc on how this has come about and where we go from here.”

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to “put a stop” to anti-suckler narratives.

“Teagasc cannot continue with an agenda of encouraging suckler farmers to sell their cows and rear badly-bred dairy calves instead,” he said.

“It is simply not economically sustainable to rear Jersey and Kiwi cross calves for beef and no amount of dressing up systems with high stocking rates is going to change that.

“The minister needs to acknowledge that suckler farming is the logical system for many farmers on fragmented and smaller holdings.”

Minister McConalogue weighs in

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has said suckler beef was always going to be “the anchor” of Ireland’s beef production model.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish Farmers Journal on Tuesday night, Minister McConalogue said Professor Boyle’s comments were not discussed with him beforehand.

The minister highlighted the importance of both suckler and dairy-beef production systems.

“I am very clear in my commitment to the suckler herd and when we formulate the next CAP, the suckler cow will be central to that,” he said.

However, he added: “I do think we need to look at the opportunities and options that exist in dairy beef.”

On the outgoing Teagasc director, he said: “Professor Boyle 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.”


Professor Boyle has got himself, the board of Teagasc and the Minister for Agriculture into hot water.

It’s been long thought by some beef farmers that Teagasc’s true allegiance lies with the dairy side of the house. Last week’s comments will confirm these thoughts for many and drive a further divide between the dairy and beef sectors.

Teagasc has always prided itself on full farmer engagement with everything that it does, from research to advice to education. However, there appears to be a breakdown in communication with farmers on the messaging around dairy beef and future policy.

There are also questions around what Teagasc’s internal strategy is on dairy beef and the future of the suckler herd, and how this is being communicated to both the Government and the Climate Change Advisory Council.

We are at a critical juncture in the formulation of the next round of CAP supports for the suckler herd. Some farmers think the damage has been done and policy already decided.

Teagasc has a number of important questions to answer around the economics at farm level of dairy beef production systems.

Driving farmers down this road without the data to back it up will give many a false hope for their future.

Professor Boyle’s comments couldn’t have come at a worse time for Teagasc as its drystock advisory team is about to launch the Dairy Beef 500 campaign, which aims to highlight the opportunities that exist in dairy beef. It will see dedicated advisers assigned to drive the campaign.

Teagasc is also in the advanced stages of signing a lease on a 300ac dairy calf to beef demonstration farm in Tipperary. Teagasc may think that the anger that has emanated this week will go away after its initial eruption, but I don’t think suckler farmers are going to lie down on this one.