The importance of the Irish suckler sector and the challenges it faces was underlined at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture today (Tuesday, December 18).

Representatives from the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) were before the committee today to discuss a report it had commissioned with University College Cork and Cork University Business School on the issue of the suckler industry in Ireland.

Speaking before the committee, in his opening address IFA president Joe Healy stressed the significance of the sector, noting that the overall value of the Irish beef sector amounted to almost €2.9 billion.

He noted that the beef sector accounts for over 33% of overall agricultural output and over 20% of the overall food and drink exports.

In spite of this, an annual income of just €12,529 was recorded on cattle rearing farms in 2017 according to the Teagasc National Farm Survey, Healy said.

“The very difficult income situation on Irish suckler farms is unsustainable and is already resulting in individual farmers reducing animal numbers leading to a loss in beef output, export values and employment.

It is estimated that a 10% contraction in the suckler cow herd would lead to a loss in beef output of €145 million and a loss of total output in the economy of €305 million.

“A contraction in the Irish suckler cow herd may also lead to land abandonment in marginal areas, causing a loss of natural landscape features, biodiversity and a contracting rural community.”

The IFA president stressed that the Irish suckler cow sector is at a critical juncture, highlighting threats to its future development and sustainability including Brexit, Mercosur and CAP reform – but ultimately farm prices.

“Without positive action it is most likely that these factors will lead to a contracting national suckler cow herd.

“This will have implications for the large farming community engaged in suckler farming, the vibrancy of rural areas, the agri-input sector, employment in the beef processing sector and the value of exports from Ireland.

“These negative implications will be most harshly felt in the west of Ireland and particularly in local economies and communities where there may be limited alternative economic opportunities,” Healy said.