Veal market conundrum: ‘We have a lot of calves that nobody wants’

“We have a lot of calves that have Kiwi and Jersey mix and nobody wants this for veal,” the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) general secretary Eddie Punch warned this week.

Punch was speaking to AgriLand about the beef crisis and how the organisation can assist with the matter.

“We want a proper economic calf-to-beef system; we have a lot of calves that are Kiwi or Jersey mix and nobody wants that veal – it is as simple as that,” he added.

He also pointed to the fact there are a high number of calves in the system and other markets would have to be explored in order to cope with that. Punch said those calves could not be put into the beef system because they would totally undermine the market.

He added: “The additional calves are leading to a lot of extra beef and there is no real increase in demand within Europe for the product. A lot of those calves are being bought by Irish farmers instead of being exported into the veal markets. We need additional markets for those extra calves.”

The ICSA general secretary went on to say that suckler beef needed to be marketed better.

We need to be looking at special brands for suckler beef. The grid also has to be reviewed; it came in 10 years ago and it isn’t working for anyone.

Punch added: “Unless we fix the deeper market problems we won’t solve the issues.”

Live exports

Meanwhile, Seamus Scalan, Wicklow Calf Company, told AgriLand that farmers who were breeding Jersey calves “were destroying the trade”.

“It must be highlighted that these Jersey-cross calves are coming; it’s destroying the trade. Where is the market for all these calves going to come from? There are going to be serious welfare issues with calves being exported this year,” he said.

Last week the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine confirmed that delays in exporting calves would come to an end in March on foot of the arrival of a new cruise ferry – the W.B. Yeats – which will set sail to the continent.

In line with the expansion of the dairy sector, last year, more than 900,000 dairy calf births were recorded by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) during the first three months of 2018.

Some 138,234 calves were exported (live) between January 1 and July 1, 2018 – a hike of 36,667 head – or 36% – compared to the same period in 2017.

The chief destinations for dairy bull calves were Spain and the Netherlands, with a total of 102,755 calves shipped to these countries during the first half of the year.  Most of these animals were sold into the veal market.