Dairy farmers have expressed their disappointment and feel their sire choices have been limited for the upcoming breeding season.
This comes as some of the top-performing New Zealand bulls, such as Conrad and Sierra, will not be available to farmers in the Republic of Ireland this year.
The decision by LIC to pull some of its top-performing bulls follows a stalemate between the New Zealand farmer-owned genetics company and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).
Earlier this year, LIC proposed the introduction of contracts to protect its “intellectual property” and to “ensure the delivery of the very best technology to farmers.”
This came as EU quarantine procedures were scaled back, meaning that the In-Quarantine period dropped from 104 days down to just 30 days and, as a result, Irish farmers would have been given access to some of New Zealand’s most “elite genetics.”
The proposed contracts stipulated that a farmer cannot sell a bull calf, bred through the use of semen from LIC, onto another AI company for a period of five years after its birth.
This was strongly opposed by the ICBF.
But, after failing to reach an agreement with the ICBF, the genetics company decided to put a stay on the requirement for farmers to agree to the new contracts for the remainder of 2017.
In early February, the genetics company stated that it would devote the next six months to reach an agreement with the ICBF.
Farmers left disappointed
However, dairy farmers have expressed their disappointment and feel their voice hasn’t been heard. Some said that it has limited them, in their quest of accessing ‘high-quality, grass-based genetics.’
Ger Pardy milks 220 cows in Birr, Co. Offaly and uses 100% AI on his herd.
Pardy told Agriland that he never had any problems with signing a contract “as there isn’t a huge demand for crossbred bulls”.
“This is the first year that I would have been able to use the same bulls as farmers in New Zealand. I picked bulls like Sierra and Conrad in good faith, as they had the best figures available.
These bulls can be used freely in Northern Ireland and the UK, as there were no objections to the contracts.
“It’s the heifers we are looking for; not the bull calves. It might be a one-in-a-million bull calf that would be suitable to become a bull in AI.
Individual farmers not given their say
Co. Mayo-based dairy farmer and former Young Farmer of the Year Sean O’Donnell said individual farmers were not given their say in the matter.
O’Donnell, who is currently in the process of setting up a second dairy enterprise, told Agriland that he still pays the ICBF tag levy – which is the chief source of income to the breeding federation.
I am not interested in breeding bulls for AI stations.
“My focus is on breeding an efficient cow for a grass-based system.
“Only 3.5% of the Irish dairy population is crossbred and I am not driven by EBI. My aim is to breed an efficient grass-based cow to suit my system,” he added.
O’Donnell said that each individual farmer should have been given the choice to sign the contract on an individual basis as “your choice of cow is a personal choice”.
“LIC has always backed Irish farmers using crossbred genetics and we are in the minority of dairy farmers out there,” he said.
It should have been a farmer-driven decision, rather than an industry-driven decision. The industry shouldn’t decide what genetics farmers actually have access to.
“It should be the farmer’s choice.”
100% focused on breeding cows
Andrew Dineen milks 100 cows in Macroom, Co. Cork and has previously sold crossbred bulls to stud.
Despite this, Dineen feels the decision to remove bulls like Sierra and Conrad from the Irish market has “pulled the carpet from beneath Irish farmers”.
“I was very angry when I learned I wouldn’t have access to Sierra this year. He is a bull I have followed for a number of years and I was keen to use him because he really suited my system.
“I thought he was the ideal bull and I was going to use him a lot on my cows this year,” he said.
The Co. Cork-based farmer continued to say that it was never his intention to breed a bull for use in an Irish AI stud.
I am 100% focused on producing a high genetic cow suitable for a grass-based production system.
“I was willing to sign the contract. I looked at the bigger picture and it’s the females on the ground I was actually interested in breeding.
“Having good genetics is very important and the decision to remove Sierra and Conrad from the market forced me to change my breeding plan.
“I put a lot of work into selecting bulls this year and I had intended on using bulls like Sierra and Conrad on approximately 50% of my herd. I thought I had my homework done prior to calving with my bull selection choices,” he said.
Dineen said he had questioned why “the very best New Zealand bulls” had not been available to Irish farmers in previous years and he noted that he was disappointed that these genetics aren’t available now – to breed the next generation of Irish dairy cows.
There is no winner in this scenario, but it is the farmer that suffers most.
“Irish farmers need a diversity of genetics available to us; it is bulls from New Zealand that give us that diversity.
“The New Zealand dairy industry, through LIC, has given a lot to Irish farmers over the last 15-20 years. At the end of the day the farmer appears to have no say in the decision, but it’s the farmer that is keeping the industry and ICBF running,” he said.