‘Suckler farmers would be better off not in BDGP at all’ – mart manager

If suckler beef was marketed as a “premium product” the sector wouldn’t be “forced to beg” the Government for the introduction of a coupled payment of up to €200/cow, Kevin Maguire, president of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society, has stated.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine in Leinster House tomorrow, he warned of widespread dissatisfaction over the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP).

Tomorrow, Maguire, along with a delegation of like-minded individuals from across the beef sector, will call for the department’s €300 million BDGP scheme to be overhauled.

It is understood that representatives from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) will also be present at the meeting.

The BDGP is an agricultural scheme which was launched by the Department of Agriculture in May 2015. The scheme – which will run until 2020 – is designed to improve the genetic merit of suckler herds and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the Irish beef herd.

Under the scheme, stars are awarded based on the animal’s genetic merits for either replacement or terminal traits.

Although Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed has repeatedly highlighted the genetic improvements being delivered by the scheme, Maguire has a very different story to tell.

Speaking to AgriLand, Maguire claimed that up to 20 marts from across the country share his views.

“The way I see it, the system is designed to breed a different type of animal than we have been producing for the last 50 years.

They are not breeding Us and Rs; while Os and Ps are rising rapidly. It’s ridiculous. We’re going to have to get review of the BDGP scheme.

Maguire is also of the view that the much-called-for introduction of a coupled payment to boost the suckler sector would just provide a short-term reprieve on the ground.

He believes suckler beef is being “marketed in completely the wrong way” and claims that the only long-term solution is to market it as a premium product.

When people come over to buy beef in this country the factory yard is full of good continental cross cattle that morning; but the next day you’re back into black and whites again.

“Suckler beef is a premium product that’s being produced and naturally reared off its own mother. It’s grazed for eight or nine months on very little meal; it’s like a free-range or broiler chicken – it’s the same comparison really,” he said.

Inside farm gate

Maguire, who has been president of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society for the last two years, said the situation has intensified over the last 18 months.

“A woman rang me after I became president and asked me to go see them. They had 20 pedigree Charolais cows – they used to sell 16 or 17 calves every year.

Also Read: ‘The amount of money the BDGP has taken out of my pocket is unbelievable’

“But when the star system came in, their herd was desolated. They were getting €3,500 on average for bulls and heifers to export to Northern Ireland, and all different places, but they ended up that they couldn’t sell a bull or a heifer.

“They’ve educated their family out of 20 cows and a small farm payment and they were hoping to continue on but it ended up that they couldn’t sell their animals; it was only at a commercial price,” said Maguire.

The farmer got that depressed when this all happened that he took to the bed. He wouldn’t even get up to calve a cow or look at cattle down the field. He ended up in a mental hospital and that is what the BDGP scheme is doing.

“Suckler beef is a premium product; Irish beef is recognised all over the world. But the system is bringing our U, R, and E grades down to Os and Ps; it’s the bottom of the barrel,” he said.

“We don’t want to go begging to the Government for money. We need a payment in the short-term to tide the suckling over until we get proper markets set up and farmers get paid for the quality of beef that is coming off the suckler herd,” he said.

Maguire highlighted that in some countries across the world farmers get €7.50 or €8/kg for beef.

Ringside

Gerry Connellan, manager at Elphin Mart, noted the deterioration in quality he is seeing ringside.

“The quality is going back; the suckler cow is disappearing. Financially they need support to keep them going.

“The weather in the west of Ireland over the last year has meant that cattle have been in for so long. Costs are gone so high now that they won’t be able to survive.

Without a new vision for the suckler sector, Connellan says farmers in his region will be forced into forestry.

The BDGP is the worst scheme they ever brought out. It is no help to the suckler cow. The biggest end of the beef is coming now from the dairy herd and the quality is falling.

“It’s hitting us more than anyone else because our mart would be nearly all of a very high quality and if they don’t keep the suckler cow what do they keep? The land isn’t good enough for dairy stock down here.

“It’s either support the suckler cow or plant the land,” he said.

As a suckler farmer himself, Connellan says he too is not making a reasonable margin of a profit.

The BDGP is not working – I’m in it myself and I would say that I’m better not in it at all. It needs to be overhauled.

“We did our best not to let it come in in the beginning; the west of Ireland didn’t agree with it. It was more set up to suit dairy stock than the beef section and that’s how it’s playing out now,” he concluded.