Further decline in suckler cow numbers predicted

Teagasc is predicting a further decline in suckler cow numbers between now and 2025.

In its recently published Road Map for Suckler Beef document a  small reduction in the number of farms with beef cattle is also projected.

However, there may well be an increase in the number of farms rearing and finishing calves from the dairy herd, with some farms switching from suckling to these systems.

Teagasc is also predicting that a proportion of suckler farms are likely to supplement their output through buying and rearing bought in calves.

The production of quality weanlings for live export to the European market from the suckler herd may be an option for some specialist producers.

However, the expected contraction in the suckler herd may increase demand for such stock in Ireland and limit the volume of such live exports.

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Trade agreements and Brexit

According to Teagasc, the impact of the UK exit from the European Union will have a negative impact on the Irish beef industry.

The UK currently takes close to 50% of Irish beef exports and any increase in barriers to Irish beef exports or increased access to the UK market for non-EU suppliers will negatively affect Irish cattle prices.

Current estimates indicate that the most efficient suckler calf-to-steer beef producers, finishing males as steers, can expect to achieve a gross margin in excess of €1,300 per hectare by 2025.

Teagasc is confirming that the implementation of the 2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform deal will continue to negatively affect those farms with a sizable Basic Payment per hectare.

Moreover, international trade agreements under negotiation continue to represent a threat to the Irish beef industry. Agreements, if reached, are likely to lead to greater access to EU markets.

Currently, there are ongoing negotiations on bilateral agreements with Mercosur and on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA, while the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), that is as yet unratified, was reached between the EU and Canada.

Negotiations on bilateral trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand are expected to commence shortly.

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Environment

From an environmental perspective, the greenhouse gas emissions of the beef industry, when expressed on the basis of output per kg of beef produced, will be reduced due to a lower number of suckler cows and an increased proportion of beef being bred from the dairy herd.

Increases in the efficiency of production (weight for age at slaughter, age at first calving, calving rate) will aid this reduction, as will the uptake of emission-reducing technologies such as protected urea.

Teagasc research and advisory service priorities for the suckler beef sector will act to refine the production of beef from integrated pasture-based systems.

The emphasis will be on pasture growth, its utilisation and quality, to focus on animal output where the economic balance between gains at pasture and during the winter will be used to enhance output.

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Teagasc’s overall vision for the sector is to increase the number of beef farmers who are making a sustainable and worthwhile profit per hectare in return for the resources that they are investing in their farms.

This will be achieved through a greater uptake of technologies in grassland, animal breeding, nutrition, animal health and overall financial management.

These have been shown at both research and demonstration farm level to deliver a significantly higher return per hectare than is currently being achieved on many beef farms.

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