The new Teagasc suckler research herd in Athenry has come in for more criticism, with ICSA suckler chairman Dermot Kelleher expressing further reservations about the project.
Kelleher reiterated the ICSA’s concern that the project is not in tune with the reality of the land farmed by many suckler farmers.
However, this week Kelleher has also expressed concern that the herd is being managed to provide beef to meat factories and will be totally irrelevant to the live export trade for weanlings because of the type of cow being used.
“The fact that Dawn Meats is sponsoring the project has led to concerns that the focus will be on Angus-cross beef and that the system will be suckler to beef. Many farmers in the west of Ireland are focused on high-grade continental cattle, with a view to producing an export-grade weanling.
“They do this in many cases on difficult marginal land. The land at the Athenry research centre is top class, dry land and is not typical of west of Ireland suckler farms at all,” he said.
“It seems to me that the whole project is not engaging with the reality of where suckler farmers are at. From an economics perspective, ICSA believes that suckler farming needs to produce more weanlings for live export.
“It is clear that increasing or even maintaining the current level of suckler beef for Irish factories is a recipe for disaster, making beef too plentiful with a consequent knock-on effect on prices.”
Kelleher also said that many farmers suspect that the herd at Athenry will demonstrate lower costs and that this will be used as a stick to beat farmers with.
“It’s obvious that the land at Athenry will support a much longer grazing season than most farmers on heavy land could possibly achieve. Therefore costs will be lower and farmers who can’t match this will be derided as inefficient when in fact their farms cannot be compared to Athenry.
“However, the publicity around lower costs at Athenry will be used as a reason by supermarkets and processors to keep farm-gate price low.”
“The reality of this situation is that if a young lad starting out had a few acres of land, no-one would advise him to start a suckler herd, and the planned research in Athenry is not going to change that,” Kelleher said.