‘Beef interests are under-represented on the board of the ICBF’

Beef interests are under-represented on the board of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

This is despite the fact that the ICBF has put huge resources into beef breeding in recent years, the farm organisation added.

A comprehensive debate about the direction of cattle breeding in the context of dairy expansion needs to take place, the ICSA’s Suckler Chairman, John Halley, said.

This is essential in a country where beef and cattle exports are still phenomenally important, he continued.

A transparent debate on the best model for funding the ICBF, as well as the role it will play in the development of breeding, needs to take place prior to the cattle tag levy becoming compulsory later this year, he added.

He also pointed out that the ICSA is excluded from decision making at ICBF board level and beef breed societies are manifestly under-represented.

The development of intellectual property from the data supplied by farmers is looking like an increasingly important facet of the ICBF model and it is clear that how this is monetised is a matter for all farming representatives, not just some.

Profitability factors

Meanwhile, Halley also argued that there is a variety of factors which determine profitability in suckling which also support the need for debate and, ultimately, decisions at board level.

“Weight gain must be balanced against price/kg; both must be balanced against cow calving interval and numbers of live calves weaned.

“We also need to be able to question the new dogma in dairy breeding which completely devalues the beef merit of the calf – in favour of a low maintenance, small cow that calves within a 6-week period and produces high fat and protein.

The strategy for dairy breeding is entirely in-keeping with New Zealand farming models where the bull calves are killed at birth.

“If we want New Zealand breeding outcomes, then we have to accept the consequences of that – but this is not discussed openly when we determine Irish dairy breeding strategy,” the ICSA’s Suckler Chairman said.

Beef farmers and, indirectly, suckler farmers can – unfortunately – end up carrying the consequences of these decisions, he added.

Levy model

The levy model has got a very bad reputation as a result of a lack of transparency around levies for other organisations, Halley explained.

It is no surprise that many farmers have opted out of the levy on calf tags, for reasons that have little to do with the ICBF.

“However, the ICBF should not be tarnished unfairly with the same brush. The ICBF has been to the fore in building databases which are a huge asset to cattle breeding in Ireland.

“Farmer influence on the ICBF is not something that should be let slip through other funding models, but it is timely to look at the make-up of farmer representation,” he concluded.