ICSA President Patrick Kent has said that the beef farming sector must face up to the reality that either all dairy bull calves are exported or suckler cow numbers must be reduced.

In his address to the ICSA Annual Conference, he said there is now a major concern that the retention of dairy calves in 2015 will lead to the next glut and price collapse in 2016.

“Teagasc has published the cost of keeping a suckler cow as €635, but when we factor in the cows that don’t produce a calf every 12 months, the actual cost of the productive cows is €800.”

Alluding to the likely retention of dairy calves as farmers seek to avoid quota fines in spring 2015, he said that farmers would be naïve to think that factories will behave any differently when numbers creep up again.

“We cannot have a suckler beef herd of 1m cows if there are no outlets for bulls over 16 months and which weigh 450kg.”

Although he welcomed the opening of US and Chinese markets, he said this will be “meaningless unless they bring an improvement in the bottom line for farmers”.

In his address, the ICSA president called for a balance debate on the complex issue of farm safety. He condemned proposals to cut EU supports because “safety shortcomings are due to genuine economic pressures, and cutting payments worsens rather than alleviates the position.”

He added that the focus on accidents cannot detract from the fact that many more farmers are affected by physical and mental health issues. Mr. Kent suggested that “no-notice inspections, delays in EU payments and savage penalties are causing immense stress which may lead to death and ill-health.”

He also challenged the Minister to deliver fair protocols under the Farmers’ Charter.