Beef Plan Group: It would make you proud to be part of the beef sector

Many suckler and beef farmers in this country are at breaking point. These men and women work endless hours week-in week-out – sometimes while juggling another full-time job; but yet, they never fail to produce a top-quality product.

Irish beef is renowned all over the world for being top class and, having been lucky enough to spend a period of time in Australia, New Zealand and France, I would most certainly agree – it is streets ahead.

2018 will be a year remembered for the extreme weather conditions – Storm Emma froze the country to a halt and interrupted any chance of livestock farmers getting their animals out in spring after housing stock early in the back end of 2017.

Then came the heatwave and the drought – something that farmers could never have expected. The city and town folk grabbed their togs, towels and beach balls and headed for the nearest coastline.

However, the farmers lay awake at night worrying what they are going to feed their cattle with.

But, what if I was to say 2018 will be remembered for something else. What if I was to say 2018 was the year that beef farmers across the country formulated a plan that changed the sector for the better.

Would I be dreaming?

I first heard of the 86-point plan a few weeks back and instantly I was interested. I was then added into a Whatsapp group a few days later.

Now, even though the Whatsapp group sometimes beeps and buzzes away daily, it doesn’t take long to get over this and realise that these genuine farmers are fighting to save what generations before them have created.

Many will argue that the sector is finished and the best thing for the farmers involved is to move on. However, these farmers will not go down without a fight.

We can talk all day about indexes, stars, efficiency, best practice, cow weights, calf weights etc and – without a doubt – these all have an important part to play in the future, but to see farmers stand side-by-side is admirable.

And, the best thing about this is that there is a plan – there is a blueprint.

It’s not just a group of farmers meeting to give out, talk about the problem and say how bad it is; there are targets and goals set out.

What I believe this group has on its side is farmer power, no hidden agendas and no politics. The question now is: Will it succeed where the country’s leading farm lobby groups appear to be failing?

Upon my travels over the past number of weeks, I have spoken to many people – from many different sectors – and while some shut it down straight away and say ‘it hasn’t a hope’ and ‘it’s a waste of time’, others have remained positive and upbeat about the situation and some of these are farmers with no ties to the beef industry.

I’m not here saying it’s going to work and I’m not saying it’s not going to work, but by the sounds of it, we are going to hear a lot more about it over the coming months.

Whether it will make a difference or not, it’s still great to see farmers on the ground standing up for themselves.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Christy Comerford – a Charolais breeder from Co. Kilkenny – a few months back, and to say the least, he made a lasting impression.

As I drove back along the M9 motorway that day, I remember thinking ‘well there’s no way in hell that lad is going to stop producing Charolais cattle – even if he has nowhere to sell them’.

While I wasn’t present at the meeting in Claremorris, Co. Mayo, on Thursday last, I wasn’t surprised to hear clips of Christy ‘rallying the troops’ and I couldn’t help but think that it sounded Michael Collinsesque.

I know it doesn’t make sense to run a business that is losing money hand over foot, but just maybe for a second, what if there was a chance farmers could change that. If there was a glimmer a hope, would you try and grab it with both hands – I bet you would.

One thing I know for sure is, I’ll be at my county’s meeting in the Downs GAA Clubhouse just outside Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, on Wednesday, December 5, to show my support.