Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has said he rejects the notion that the suckler model should be abandoned and all beef farmers need to move to a dairy beef system.

The Midlands Northwest MEP said: “Many beef farmers in my constituency are disappointed with the remarks made by Professor [Gerry] Boyle.

“I am under no illusions about the climate change challenge, but the collapsing of the suckler sector to focus on servicing the diary sector is not the solution,” he insisted.

“EU consumers will still be demanding a premium beef product, that currently the suckler sector provides, and someone will fill that gap.”

Minimal impact

“The low-carbon suckler production model is designed to have minimal impacts on soil health, water quality, air quality and biodiversity, while delivering beef grades of the highest quality.

“This is a product that is in demand in European markets and is suited to the land conditions of my constituency. The sector has been the lifeblood of rural communities for generations and with time comes experience,” he added.

McManus acknowledged that the dairy beef system will be a potential option for some farmers, but he was adamant that it was not the solution.

He cited the high costs associated with entering dairy, combined with land quality issues, as a barrier for many farmers within his constituency.

“The average drystock farm is growing around half the tonnage of grass needed per hectare to be an efficient dairy farm.

“You may well end up in a situation where the model is used all over the country, but the cost of production sharply differs, on a regional basis, leading to lower incomes in the west, border and north of the island,” McManus said.

“In my view, the products are different and both should have a place on supermarket shelves,” he added.

Sensible solutions

MacManus has highlighted more sensible solutions to meeting climate targets: “One avenue to have an impact on emissions is by the provision of greater information on the carbon footprint of the production model used.

“Facilitating consumers to choose the low-carbon, grass-fed model over imports that involve the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil would be a start.

“We also need to build on initiatives like the Life Beef Carbon project, which is working on a cut of beef’s carbon footprint by 15% relative to the start year 2016.”

The Midlands Northwest MEP concluded by encouraging a more holistic approach to finding solutions: “Every sector must play its part and no one measure will deliver the radical transformation required, but I am convinced the suckler beef sector deserves a future and can be sustainable.

“I am therefore calling on Teagasc to undertake the research required to create a future vision for the sector and end its policy of sectoral abandonment,” he said.

MacManus’ remarks come in response to Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle advocating that farmers should switch from beef cow production to dairy cow production as part of Ireland’s response to the climate crises.

The Sligo MEP made these comments following a meeting with senior Connacht IFA members in Athenry.