The director of Teagasc, Prof. Gerry Boyle, has outlined that “nearly two thirds of suckler farmers are making a loss from the marketplace”.

Speaking at the launch of the Teagasc National Farm Survey Report, Prof. Boyle said: “If it wasn’t for the single farm payment, they just wouldn’t be in business at all.”

He explained: “The standout figure for me from the survey is the fact that suckler incomes went way below €10,000 for the first time ever.

No farm can survive on a family farm income of €10,000, so clearly off-farm employment is hugely important to those farms.

However, Prof. Boyle also noted that not all farms have off-farm employment and said “they’re living close to there breadline”.

Suckler alternatives

Commenting on the alternatives, Prof. Boyle explained: “Dairy beef is going to grow in importance because as the suckler herd declines, you’re going to have more and more beef coming off the dairy herd.”

He added that this is what happened in Ireland traditionally.

A large number of sucklers is a phenomenon that you can trace back to the 1980’s.

He mentioned Teagasc’s recent open day in Johnstown Castle where dairy-beef enterprises were examined and Boyle noted that “there is more money to be made in fattening dairy animals”.

However, he stressed that for this to be the case, “you have to get a good calf to begin with; you have to have a calf that can thrive and then the net margins are quite good”.

Prof. Boyle also remarked that the suckler is “always challenged, however, it’s a hugely important sector for the reason that it’s the backbone of our specialised beef, so it is important that suckler farmers generate an adequate rate of return”.

There’s an awful lot of them [suckler farms] out there and there is going to be rationalisation over the years.

Concluding, Boyle drew attention to the fact that: “The suckler herd is already falling and I think that level of decline has been accelerating over the last few years.”