‘Dairying can provide a win-win pathway for drystock farmers’

Farmers involved in the dairy sector and the suckler sector can work together to improve their respective incomes, according to the director of Teagasc, Prof. Gerry Boyle.

Speaking in front of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday (Thursday, October 4) morning, he acknowledged that – as it stands – suckler farmers “couldn’t survive” without the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

He said: “The typical family farm income from the Teagasc National Farm Survey on a suckler farm is about €10,000 and that is including the basic payment to the farmer.

“So clearly there is a viability issue. When you analyse the problem, it’s not difficult to explain why it is at that level – because you have quite a spread of people engaged in suckler farming. Very few of them would be full-time, commercial-type farmers.

“A lot of them are elderly people who probably are stepping down, maybe from a career in dairying or in the fattening of animals or whatever and they like to be involved in farming.

“A lot of them are part-time farmers, where they are not dependent on the income from their suckler enterprise for their livelihoods,” he added.

‘Mindset change’

Continuing, Prof. Boyle explained that the suckler sector has always proved challenging. While the fattening sector is a little better in comparison, it is still highly variable, he added.

What we are trying to emphasise here is that we can have a win-win pathway for drystock farmers from dairying. But it is going to take a while, I think, for a mindset change.

“For example, there are huge opportunities now for drystock farmers – who are expert people at managing cattle – to rear young animals. There is already a small number of farmers engaging in that and they are doing very well.

“There are also opportunities, in our view, for farmers to fatten animals coming off the dairy herd,” he said.

This was much more common prior to dairy quotas being lifted; but, since then, there are far fewer beef-sired animals coming off the dairy herd, the director of Teagasc noted.

Concluding, he said: “There are opportunities there and I think, rather than this false antagonism between dairy and the rest, we should be trying to see how can we compliment income-earning opportunities as dairying is moving forward.”