Opinion

Exporting calves is sheer folly

The current hue and cry over the need to have better live shipping facilities for dairy-born bull calves reflects one of the largest structural weaknesses within Irish agriculture.

The fundamental question is this: Why are we exporting one of the most important resources that we produce on an annual basis?

I firmly believe that there is scope to bring every calf born in Ireland through to a finishing weight.

A waste of a genuine opportunity

Moving young animals on at such an early stage is a total waste of a genuine opportunity to generate real growth within the beef sector.

It’s not that we don’t have the knowledge and wherewithal to manage these animals effectively.

Teagasc perfected dairy calf-to-beef systems 30 years ago.

I keep hearing about the need to add value within Irish agriculture. Surely one way of doing this is to bring dairy-bred beef calves through to finishing weights rather than having farmers in other countries do that for us.

The meat factories must play a key role in making this happen.

To its credit ABP is trying to get a plan of this nature off the ground, specifically targeting young people – let’s hope this succeeds – but the other meat plants need to get active in making this happen on an industry-wide basis.

In my opinion, young people hold the key to making the calf-to-beef scenario work; there are, literally, thousands of them trying to get a foothold within the farming industry right now.

Let’s not forget that the average age of a farmer in Ireland is 58 years; this figure needs to be reduced dramatically.

A feasible starting point

Getting access to dairy-bred calves at reasonable money is a feasible starting point for young farmers. It would then be up to the factories to put in place a contract farming plan that would make sense for all parties involved.

Exporting calves is an easy fix for dairy farmers at this time of the year. I am fully aware of the fact that Irish dairy cow numbers have increased by almost 300,000 head over the last three years.

And this means that there is an equivalent number of calves on the ground, most of which are born during the spring months of the year.

I don’t buy into the argument that there is insufficient land to allow the retention of these animals in Ireland.

The fact is that every farming business in the country could increase its grassland output by 30% without breaking sweat.