Save our sucklers: sign our open letter
Open letter from readers of the Irish Farmers Journal to President Juncker, Commissioners Hogan and Malmström, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Michael Creed.

Dear President Juncker, Commissioners Hogan and Malmström, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Michael Creed

In 2017, Irish beef exports totalled €2.5bn. The backbone of this industry is our national suckler herd. Traditionally standing at over a million cows, the suckler herd has been a vital generator of economic activity in towns and villages throughout rural Ireland.

There are over 100,000 Irish farm families directly engaged in the production and finishing of suckler-bred animals. Alongside this, the beef processing industry generates another 10,000 jobs. Many of these processing facilities are located in rural towns and villages where alternative employment is limited. Furthermore, with the beef sector sourcing in excess of 90% of its inputs from within the Irish economy, suckler farming is key to sustaining the economic activity that generates thousands of jobs in the agricultural inputs sector.

Overall the Irish beef industry has traditionally contributed more to the Irish economy than any other manufacturing sector. Economic analysis indicates that for every €100 in exports, the net foreign earnings from the beef sector is over €50. This compares to just €19 for other manufacturing sectors including modern economy sectors such as pharmaceuticals and ICT.

Unfortunately, suckler beef production is an extremely low-margin business. Within the EU, the suckler herd has largely been maintained through a combination of direct payments that underpinned production and trade regulations that ensure only beef produced to EU standards can enter the EU market.

Along with providing EU consumers with safe, high-quality beef, both measures reflected a long-held view at national and EU level that the suckler cow played an important role as:

1 An economic generator in rural towns and villages across the EU.

2 An environmental custodian across some of the most marginal land areas within the EU.

An analysis carried out by UCD on behalf of the IFA reinforces the role of the suckler cow as a wealth creator, showing that every €1 of support provided to suckler farmers generated over €4 of economic activity in rural towns and villages.

Unfortunately, we have in recent years seen a steady erosion in the level of direct support targeted towards the suckler sector. A recent analysis carried out by the Irish Farmers Journal showed that a typical suckler farm has seen the level of support received from both the EU and Irish Government fall by typically €200 per cow.

This lack of support has coincided with a growing appetite within the EU to undermine the EU beef market by allowing increased access to beef imports from parts of the world that do not have the same costs or production standards. Currently the EU is negotiating a trade deal with South American countries that, if agreed, would have devastating consequences for the EU and Irish suckler herds.

All this is taking place against a backdrop where EU and Irish beef farmers are struggling to cope with the consequences of Brexit. No sector within any member state is as exposed to the fallout from Brexit as the Irish beef industry. The UK market currently consumes five times more Irish beef than the Irish market.

The lack of profitability, due to the steady withdrawal of support from both Europe and the Irish Government and the uncertainty around the future of the EU beef market, due to ongoing trade deals and Brexit, is seeing the Irish suckler herd slowly starting to wither away.

Unless both the EU and Irish Government move to quickly inject confidence back into the suckler sector, then the pace at which farmers exit the sector will accelerate, with the financial consequences being felt far beyond the farm gate.

By signing this letter, I am calling on you, the European Commission and the Irish Government to recognise the important role that suckler farmers play in maintaining a vibrant rural Ireland by committing to:

1 A fully funded Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with the commitment to introduce targeted direct support for all low-income sectors including sucklers.

2 Protect EU and Irish suckler farmers in all upcoming trade deals and reject any demands from non-EU countries for increased access to EU beef markets.

3 Safeguarding farmers’ income both during and after Brexit negotiations through the implementation of market support measures.

4 Supporting the campaign for the introduction of a suckler cow support payment of €200/cow to underpin the sector and halt rural decline.

A good scan but conditions still tough on Tullamore Farm
Tullamore Farm continues to struggle with the current drought conditions. Adam Woods reports.

Rain

While rain was welcomed on Sunday, only 10mm fell and with soil moisture deficits now heading towards 80mm, a lot more rain will be needed before growth returns to normal levels. July is statistically one of the driest months of the year, so the chances of getting a lot more rain before August is slim.

Growth is holding well on heavier paddocks again this week, with the average growth over the past seven days at 38kg DM/ha. Drier paddocks have grown zero over the past seven days. Average farm cover is still very low at 390kg DM/ha, with farm demand running at 19kg DM/ha.

After-grass is being allocated to lambs.

No fertiliser has been spread on the farm for the last five weeks. Once we get any amount of rain forecast, one bag of 18:6:12/acre will be spread across a large proportion of the farm. It’s going to be a challenge to build grass covers in August and September, along with taking out surplus silage. Silage continues to be fed at the rate of five bales/day, along with 500kg of concentrates to both store cattle and calves, costing the farm over €1,500/week.

Silage

The farm needs to make another 600t of silage for winter 2018. Thirty-five acres of second-cut will be cut in a few weeks’ time and hopefully surplus bales can be removed in August or September.

Farm manager Shaun Diver is currently trying to source some hay and straw as an insurance policy and has been quoted prices of €35/bale for 4x4 hay and €30/bale for 4x4 straw. Straw is very expensive and alternatives will be looked at, including peat.

Scanning

The first pregnancy scan took place on Monday 16 July, with good results. The breeding season started on Wednesday 25 April for heifers and Tuesday 1 May for cows. So, after six weeks of breeding, there are 65 out of 85 (76%) cows in calf and 10 out of 15 heifers in calf (66%).

On a herd basis, 75% of the herd will calve in the first six weeks of the calving period in 2019, all to AI bulls.

Drier paddocks remain under severe pressure in terms of soil moisture deficit.

There was one pregnancy which was at high risk of being lost that wasn’t included in the figures. There was also one cow scanned which is unlikely to go back in calf. The target is 80%, so it’s just shy of the target.

Stock bulls were removed from the herd this week and cows will be scanned at the end of August to determine the empty rate of the herd. The Aberdeen Angus bull suffered a prolapse in his penal area when serving a cow last week and, on veterinary advice, will be culled.

Pneumonia

A Limousin-cross calf was lost last week to pneumonia. The calf was spotted and treated by both farm staff and the vet. However, he failed to respond to antibiotics. The calf was sent to Athlone for post-mortem and came back positive for mycoplasma bovis. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination for this strain of pneumonia and the only preventative measure is to make sure calves receive the best possible start in life to maximise immunity.

Simplicity the key as large crowd attend Wicklow BETTER Farm open day
Brian Doran farms grassland and tillage in Co Wicklow, with a large crowd attending his farm walk.

A crowd of over 200 people attended the first of two Teagasc/ Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm Beef Challenge walks taking place on Brian Doran's farm just outside Carnew in Co Wicklow.

Brian is farming 43ha of grassland and 41ha of tillage. The grassland area is split into two blocks. The 32ha main block is situated around the yard, with the remaining 11ha five miles away.

Simplicity is at the core of Brian’s system, with 50 suckler cows and calves running in one block and a 55 steers and heifers running in another. All progeny are sold as steer and heifer beef.

The walk of Brian's farm includes five main stand focusing on areas and BETTER farm challenges such as herd health, breeding, grassland management, meeting the markets and dealing with the current drought and fodder problems.

The farm is no different to many farms across the country and is feeding both silage and concentrates in an effort to prolong the rotation and save what grass covers are left.

Each of the stands generated a good discussion between the audience and the speakers which included members of the Irish Farmers Journal livestock team, the BETTER farm management team and local Teagasc B&T advisors.

Here are just some of the main quotes from the day:

"Going forward, Brian's farm is capable of producing a gross margin of €1210/ha, a rise of almost €400/ha in five years” – Tommy Cox, Teagasc BETTER farm programme adviser.

“Reducing the calving spread has definitely reduced the labour on the farm. I like the black Limousin cows, lots of milk and easy calved” – Brian Doran, host BETTER farmer.

“Grazing infrastructure, soil fertility, grazing management and reseeding are the most important points of grassland management, in that order” – Hugh Mahon, Teagasc B&T adviser.

“If you are to take only one thing from today, it is that lime is the single most critical factor in soil fertility and in growing more grass” – Bob Sheriff, Teagasc B&T adviser.

“There definitely isn’t enough knowledge around the pricing grid system among farmers” – Denis Brennan, Slaney Foods

“Quality assurance is the bare minimum requirement from all our suooer market customers. It’s an absolute must for us when we are selling our beef.” – Denis Brennan, Slaney Foods

Another walk is scheduled for 5pm this evening on Brian Doran’s farm. On Thursday, the Teagasc/ Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm Beef challenge will head west to Nigel O’Kane's farm in Co Galway for another two BETTER Farm beef challenge walks.

Read more

BETTER Farm: tapping into potential in Galway

Beef top tips: Calculating fodder deficits