The former president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Eddie Downey, recently dismissed calls for feedlots to be banned in Ireland.

Speaking at an IFA meeting in Kilmacthomas last week, Downey stated that better controls for factory-owned feedlots are needed – rather than an outright ban.

He said: “We should look at better ways of controlling the feedlots.

Stopping somebody having them and taking a buyer out of the marketplace is definitely not a good way to help the livestock sector.

He believes that more work needs to be carried out to help make the livestock sector more efficient and, in turn, more profitable.

Continuing, he added: “Profit is not a bad word and it is often declared as a bad word. When I started farming I started a calf-to-beef system; Friesian calves from the dairy industry.

“I bought them, I fattened them over two years and I killed them.

I was buying waste product from the dairy industry in some people’s minds, but I could make money from it.

Downey stated that any support payment secured for the suckler industry in Budget 2019 should be linked to the calf and it should work to make the system more efficient.

Contract rearing

Meanwhile, contract rearing has been a topic of much debate in recent weeks. The former president of the IFA called on farmers to keep an open mind when it comes to the practice of rearing heifers for the dairy industry,

Addressing the meeting, he said: “Contract rearing for the dairy industry. What’s the difference between contract rearing and buying a bull calf from the dairy industry? Absolutely nothing.

Except the guy that does it is going to be profitable and he is going to be guaranteed a margin for doing his job.

“We shouldn’t look down on these people; we should applaud them and we should move forward and say: ‘Whatever we can do with our land that makes it more profitable, that’s what we should be prepared to look at’.”

He contended that “history and tradition has to be moved aside” so that farmers can go down the most profitable route that suits their farm.

‘Fodder for the factories’

Contract rearing could also have additional impacts on the beef industry, Downey added.

“If farmers move from producing beef cattle to rearing heifers for the dairy industry, that means less cattle for the factories. That puts the factories under pressure and that puts farmers in a better position to negotiate with them; believe it or believe it not.

But if we continue with the model that we currently have, we will be fodder for the factories.

Concluding, Downey stated that fixed-price contracts between farmers and factories – where a decent margin can be achieved – is the route farmers need to push for.