Teagasc predictions of a potential switch among beef farmers to dairy beef production have been criticised by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) for showing an “appalling lack of respect” for the suckler sector.

As a result, the farming organisation has called on Teagasc to “clarify its position urgently”.

The matter relates to comments made by Teagasc director Gerry Boyle on Wednesday (September 15).

Speaking at a Dublin Economic Workshop 2021 webinar on the topic of how Ireland can best meet its climate change and biodiversity targets, Boyle said:

“We think the biggest potential shift that could take place is actually in the beef sector. A shift to what we call dairy beef. Anaerobic digestion is a possibility; carbon farming in the longer term.”

Noting the rise in the number of beef cows in the country in the 1980s and 1990s because of the imposition of dairy quotas he pointed to the increase in beef cows from 400,000 to 1.2 million over this time, with dairy cow numbers falling.

Since quotas were abolished in 2015, there has been a switch, with beef cow numbers declining and dairy cow numbers rising rapidly, he said.

“The policy issues seem to me to be clear: If activity levels have to be reduced, then policy has to address how we can intervene to manage the trajectories,” the Teagasc director added.

IFA Livestock Committee chairman Brendan Golden criticised Boyle’s comments, stating:

“It’s appalling that a senior industry figure would show such disregard for a farm sector that is unique in the scale of its significance in every county.

“Farmers will be very surprised to see Gerry Boyle say that Teagasc was ‘strongly advocating’ switching from beef production to dairy beef production. We need Teagasc to clarify their position urgently.”

Highlighting the “wider benefits” of the livestock sector to towns and villages around Ireland, Golden said:

“What farmers expect to hear from Teagasc is some support for our suckler herd, which contributes to beef exports of €2 billion.

“Our export markets value the quality beef that we produce. The exports will only continue if we implement policies to bring beef farmers towards viability.

“Our pre-Budget submission has a target of €300 per suckler cow. If the government is serious about maintaining the beef sector, then it has to provide funding for beef farmers,” Golden concluded.