In this week’s Beef Focus, Agriland traveled to ‘the garden county’ to the farm of Tom Burke.

Tom is a suckler and sheep farmer outside Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, and is farming with the help of his wife and children.

The Burkes are farming approximately 70ha of fragmented land, both owned and rented, most of which is relatively dry land.

The farm currently has approximately 40 sucklers due to calve this year and approximately 80 head of other cattle, consisting of both yearlings and store cattle.

Tom explained that cattle numbers on the farm are lower than usual as the Burkes reduced their stocking rate in an effort to meet the requirements of the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM).

He said: “Even though we reduced numbers, it was virtually impossible to meet the required 5% reduction and we are now looking at facing a partial claw back.”

The Burkes also lamb a flock of over 200 ewes. Lambing begins in the last week of March while the calving season begins in February.

Tom outlined that he sees himself as “a mart farmer” saying he prefers to sell his progeny at the local livestock mart, and recently won awards for store cattle at the local mart’s Fatstock Show and Sale.

Weather permitting, cattle will go to grass at the end of the month. Breeding takes place in the summer and Tom noted that he uses both a stockbull and artificial insemination (AI) from Belgian Blue and Limousin sires.

Tom’s wife Mary works full-time off-farm but also helps out on the farm when needed.

Tom’s daughter Marita studies History and English at St. Patrick’s College Carlow, and also has a keen interest in helping out on the farm at home.

As well as farming, Marita is also a keen horse trainer, and leases a yard of her own to train and school Connemara ponies and Irish sport horses.

She hopes to farm in the future and added that she has a particular interest in the sheep enterprise on the farm.

Tom’s two sons Malcom and Trevor both studied agricultural courses at Gurteen Agricultural College and are involved in farm contracting work under the business name Burke Agri.

The Burke brothers said they are both concerned about the impact that rising costs will have on their business, saying that the amount of fodder farmers will make this year will likely be well back on other years due to the recent spike in fertiliser prices.

Commenting on the challenges facing agriculture in the future, Tom noted that below-cost selling of agricultural produce is one issue that he believes is really hurting farmers.

He also noted that industries such as the Irish pig, poultry and horticultural sectors are struggling and said “we have lost the sugar beet industry in Irish farming and we can’t afforrd to loose any more sectors”.

Concluding, he emphasised that he believes below-cost selling of agricultural produce must be stopped, saying “stopping it is the first step to ensuring a farmer can receive a fair price for what they produce”.