Teagasc Director Professor Gerry Boyle told members of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee today that his organisation had been flagging up the issue of increasing price pressure on young bulls as far back as last September.

“We had become fully aware of the growing UK retailer resistance to bulls over 18 months of age some months ago,” he added.

“And this message had been flagged up to farmers through all of our communication channels to the industry. For example, we send copies of our newsletter to 40,000 farmers on a monthly basis.”

Commenting on the history of bull beef production in Ireland over the past decade, Professor Boyle pointed out that farmers had responded to the attractive prices that had been available on these animals for much of this period.

“It has long been recognised that bulls will produce beef more efficiently than steers or heifers,” he added.

“So it made sense that Irish beef farmers would seek to increase their gross margin per hectare by switching to bull beef. And the slaughter statistics bear this point out in full. For example, back in 2004 bulls accounted for 10% of the total Irish beef kill. The equivalent figure for 2012 was almost 33%.”

Professor Boyle also highlighted the range of bull beef research and development work undertaken by Teagasc over the past number of years. This included trials carried out exclusively at Teagasc sites and the complimentary work carried out in conjunction with commercial farmers.

“We now know that finishing dairy bred bulls at nineteen months is the most cost effective way of finishing this type of animal. The equivalent figure for suckler bred animals is eighteen months.  Sixteen month bull beef does not stack up financially under any circumstances. The levels of meal required to finish young bulls by that age makes the cost extremely prohibitive.”

Commenting on the advice that Teagasc is now giving beef farmers with regard to bull beef production Gerry Boyle said:

“In the first instance, farmers should speak to the processors in order to gauge if there are outlets for bulls of any age.  From a purely production point of view, there may be circumstances when it is possible to get weanling suckler bulls finished at 18 months.

“However, I cannot stress enough that producers must secure a market outlet for young bulls prior to them committing to this particular form of beef production.”