What do farmers think about the state of the beef industry?

A crowd of well over 500 farmers gathered at Roscommon Mart on Wednesday night, November 7, for the first official public meeting of the Beef Plan 2018-2025 Group.

AgriLand was at the event to get an understanding of what beef farmers are thinking about the current state of the beef industry and to see why they feel the Beef Plan Movement is gaining momentum.

Connell Tiernan

Pedigree Charolais breeder from Elphin, Co. Roscommon, Connell Tiernan, shared his views on the current state of the beef sector.

“I am at the suckler game, I keep a small herd of pedigree Charolais and a commercial suckler herd, selling the calves as weanlings.”

He explained he came to the meeting tonight because he is “disgusted with what is going on”.

To me, the beef genomics scheme is the biggest farce that was ever brought into the country.

Connell believes that the scheme reflects “the opposite of a good beef animal” and said there is no consistency to it whatsoever.

He remarked that the Charolais tent at ‘Ploughing 2018’ “featured a one-star cow with a calf that was fit to make about €1,250 in the ring in Elphin”.

“Only a fraction of the heifers in the beef herd go for breeding, so why are we putting so much credence into maternal traits?

I want the Beef Plan to achieve the right for beef farmers to have a say on what is happening to them.

He was critical of a number of farm organisations also. He said: “Teagasc is not a farm body, Teagasc are running for the dairy man the whole time and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) are there to represent the dairy men too.”

He also highlighted what he believes is happening with the situation of dairy calves in the beef industry.

“In New Zealand, they expanded the dairy herd. When they expanded the dairy herd, they had too many dairy-born calves and they started to kill them at birth and the animal rights crowd got together and nearly shut down the dairy industry over it.

“Ireland is trying to learn from that; they don’t want to kill the calves – they want to force us beef farmers to feed those rubbish calves that are not beef at all.”

Pat Naughton

Pat is a suckler and sheep farmer from Co. Roscommon. He said he was at the meeting to see what can be done to retain the suckler herd.

He said: “It makes no sense to take less for the calf than it costs to keep the cow.

“Tonight’s meeting was positive, but it’s very hard to change anything with the factories.”

Pat believes it’s “wrong” for factories to have feedlots. “Where’s the competition authority there and, just when the price starts to rise, the factory can start killing their own cattle.

“When I was farming first, I was getting a reasonable price for cattle. When we seen men from the north buying cattle in the marts in the west, we knew we were going to get a fair price.

“Once the live exports to the north and England stopped, that’s when the beef trade slowed.”

Willie-John Fitzmaurice

Willie-John is a suckler-sheep farmer from Four Roads, Co. Roscommon, and said he attended the meeting because he believes “this is a new approach” to tackling the unfair beef price.

“I am a member of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) but I feel they have done very little for the beef and sheep farmer down through the years and I thought they let in the Electronic Identification EID tagging of the lambs very softly.

There are four things that I want to see reformed in the beef sector and they are: the carcass weight; the ICBF; the quality assurance; and the star ratings.

“I think the star rating system is a disgrace. As a suckler farmer, I think we are being sold out to the dairy farmer.

“My best cow is a one-star and she brings my best calf every year.

“The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) board consists primarily of dairy farmers; I think the ratio is 7 to 1 on the board.

“What I would like to see achieved is for farmers to get a fair share of the beef-retail value and the quality assurance age going up to 36 months because we cannot finish cattle off grass in 30 months.”

He believes: “For the grass-fed image to continue, this needs to happen.”

Concluding, he said: “I never knew the people involved in this plan before tonight, but I would like to compliment them on starting up something new and I hope it will go forward for them.”

Tom Tighe

From Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, Tom is a part-time beef farmer who also runs a farm supply business. He explained that his reason for attending the meeting was “to support the beef farmers who are getting a very poor price for beef”.

“If the beef farmer is making no profit, my business is suffering; my business depends on the beef farmer.

Men were making more money on cattle in the 1960s and 1970s than they are now.

He believes that the Beef Plan Committee are “down to farm level”.

“The speakers here tonight have come down to the heart of the west of Ireland, the heart of suckler-beef producing country and I believe this is the right place to be.”

Tom believes that the penalty on cattle over 30 months and the regulation surrounding movements of cattle is crippling beef farmers.

“For years farmers traded animals from one to the other and the movements were irrelevant. Bringing a suckler-calf into the mart and getting no sale and bringing him home counts as one movement; what kind of a system is that?”

Ken Butler

Ken is a suckler farmer from Brideswell, Co. Roscommon, and says he was at the Beef Plan meeting because he feels “it is about time someone stood up for the beef farmer”.

“I am not involved with any other farm organisations but decided to come to this meeting because I hope this group will be different to the others in that they will fight for the beef farmer.

The factories are working a cartel among themselves and the farm organisations are not doing anything for the farmer; they’re nearly selling out the farmer behind his back from what I can see.

Ken believes that the data being gathered from the Beef Data Genomics Programme (BDGP) is “helping the factory but not the farmer and there has to be some sort of a stop put to that”.

“Retailers are taking 50% of the profit and the farmer gets 20%, but when you divide that by three people – say the suckler farmer, the store-cattle farmer and the finishing farmer, it doesn’t add up.

Larry Owens

Larry is a suckler beef farmer from Tulsk, Co. Roscommon. He explained that he attended the Beef Plan 2018 – 2025 Group meeting because he was “fed up” of the ongoing situation. He said: “It has been going on for so long now and no one has gave a damn.

“We have been neglected by every other farm organisation and politician so I’m here to see is there something we can do.”

Larry explained that he thought the meeting was very good and added that there was “a great sense of atmosphere and comradery among the farmers” at the event.

“I believe this group is going in the right direction and hopefully we can put a bit of pressure on the organisations that matter and can make the changes that need to happen.”

The Tulsk farmer also outlined what he would like to see materialise from the new movement: “I want to see the industry reformed so farmers can say they made a basic wage and they can go at it again next year.”