“Every bull dying today is dying in debt,” noted Irish Farmers Association (IFA) national beef chairman Henry Burns at the recent Teagasc livestock meeting in Kilkenny.
At the meeting Burns said: “When the Food Harvest 2020 report came out first, the vibe was strong from everybody around that table including Minister for Agriculture and from the meat processors that we needed to keep more cattle at home.
“Our national kill had crashed to 1.45 million. Because of strong live exports in 2009 and 2010. We were around 1.5 million last year. We are going towards 1.6 million this year and the general projection on this is that we will take that kill up to 1.8 million.”
However Burns cautioned: “The general experience so far with the increase kill is not very good for farmers obviously. We are learning very quickly what a lot of farmers would have said. With an increased kill the power goes out of the farmer.”
He added: “There is certainly no question about it. The message that went out there from meat processors to drive these calf projects, keep these calves at home we can make something out of them in Ireland.”
Burns commented: “The lesson we are learning at the moment is that we kept home 120,000 more Friesian calves one year after the other and 90,000 this year. That looks like it is bringing us into a situation where we have to kill 60,000 more cattle between now and June. In my view those 60,000 cattle wouldn’t be there if the meat plants hadn’t encouraged it.”
“I’m clear on that,” Burns said firmly.
He went on to highlight that beef farmers are the first sector to feel the effects of the increased production set out in the 2020 targets. This due to quota restrictions is something that hasn’t happened in the dairy sector just yet, he cautioned.
He stressed the increased production has not had a positive impact for farmers commenting: “At the moment it looks like for us having less cattle in the sheds, is better for us.”
He outlined: “We killed 100,000 more cattle last year. The prediction is we will kill 100,000 more this year and you can see where we are. Certainly at the moment that meat plants and the industry in general doesn’t look like it has the capacity to handle this meat, at a price that can return a margin for the farmer. Because there is certainly no margin there for farmers at the moment.”
Burns added: “We have a winter finishing sector now. We have got to the situation where we are killing 30,000 cattle a month all year round. That was always preferred by the industry. They said if we could get that level kill we could market better, we could hold the contracts. I would say the bull played no small part in that happening.”
He cited: “It is not as simple as saying; ‘Go back to the steers and the problems are solved’. We have to remember why we went into bulls in the first place. We were encouraged by the industry and we had to do it economically. Bullocks are not as efficient as bulls. That problem is not solved even if we get through that mess.”