Dairy farmers should ‘pay beef farmers to contract rear male dairy calves’ – ICSA

The only solution to the dairy bull calf dilemma is for dairy farmers to get beef farmers to contract rear the calves, according to ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham.

While adding that the ICSA would be “totally opposed to taking scarce Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or state funds to subsidise dairy farmers when beef and sheep farmers have incomes which are a tiny fraction of what dairy farmers earn”.

Continuing, he said: “This problem cannot be resolved by transferring the risk to beef farmers who are already at breaking point.

It is futile to think that beef farmers can be expected to buy calves at a beef price of €3.45/kg and take all the cost and risk of rearing them for two years.

“There is no appetite anymore for gambling that beef price might recover to an economically sustainable level in the future,” he added.

While the ICSA beef chairman stated that “losses are certain at current beef prices”; even if the beef merit of calves improved significantly, he said: “Beef farmers would not get a return on their labour and their investment”.

On the topic of subsidising beef farmers to rear the calves, he said: “Giving them a subsidy to buy dairy calves will not work because it will simply flow back into the calf price and thereby is a further support for dairy farmers.

“Also, subsidising home rearing would undermine live exports as the two would be in direct competition.”

Meanwhile, Graham said that dairy expansion has been “built with a cavalier approach to proper analysis”.

He said:

The admission by the head of Teagasc Moorepark that they never thought about the bull calves is shocking. It demonstrates that the foundations of farm economic analysis are seriously flawed.

He also stated that dairy farmers’ “blinkered focus on breeding a dairy cow on the basis of constituents, small body size and easy care is blowing up in our face” – adding that these “Jersey/New Zealand influenced genetics are absolutely useless for beef farming”.

Continuing the beef chairman said that even if beef price rises, the “beef merit of dairy breeding will have to be brought centre stage in examining the sustainability of dairy systems”.

While also saying that if a dairy farmer breeds a calf with “negative value for beef breeding, they cannot expect his/her beef farming neighbour to absorb that cost”.

Instead, it needs to be part of the dairy farm’s costs. Otherwise, a profitable dairy farm will have to absorb the risk of finishing these calves.

Concluding, he said: “This can be done by paying beef farmers to contract rear them.

“It will also come with the added benefit of making dairy farmers properly cost the impact of their breeding decisions and will reward the dairy farmer who chooses to follow a more balanced breeding programme, rather than trying to go extreme New Zealand.

“It might also bring a more nuanced assessment of whether milk price is too low to be sustainable.”

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