Picture: Martin Desmond, Innishannon, Thomas Gunning, managing director of Farm Rights Group, Donie Shine, the group’s chairman, and George Bowers, Westmeath livestock purchaser, at Bandon Mart on Monday.
The Irish Family Farm Rights Group is mounting a national campaign for the removal of a livestock movement rule, which the organisation claims is unjust and not fair to farmers, and not appropriate to farming methods used here in Ireland, writes Denis Lehane.
Farm Rights Group (FRG) members have been petitioning farmers attending their local marts to get behind the initiative to end the movement rule.
On Monday last, Farm Rights Group chairman Donie Shine, and Thomas Gunning (managing director, FRG) were at Bandon mart pushing the case for the abolition of the rule, and the response they are getting from farmers has been “overwhelmingly supportive”.
“Around 99.9% of farmers petitioned are more than happy to sign,” said Thomas Gunning. “Many feel it’s a ridiculous rule, and say it’s about time somebody did something to sort it out.”
The problem, Thomas points out, is that “movement numbers can build up quite quickly over a short period and can militate against farmers joined in schemes such as the Quality Assurance Scheme.
“Take calves for example. Calves purchased down here in the south by calf buyers and taken to the west of Ireland can have three movements on them before the farmer in Galway or Mayo finally gets the calf. Now, if this west of Ireland farmer wants to qualify for the Quality Assurance Scheme, he will have to finish that calf. And in most cases, for the farmer that can be a big ask. It’s placing a severe restriction on the farmer.
“Looking at the mart, you will find that farmer buyers can be very slow now to bid on cattle with three or four movements on the card. There is an eye always on the movement tally. More so almost than on the animal. The reason behind it, of course, is the Quality Assurance bonus when selling the finished animal, but also, if the factory is not short of cattle, they could refuse to take an animal with five movements or more.”
The Farm Rights Group points out that farmers selling cattle privately can also find themselves clocking up a movement count even if the sale is between neighbours, and the cattle might only be moved from one field to another.
“The science behind the movement system is based on a view that an animal with one movement will have better quality meat than an animal, let’s say, with three or four movements on the card,” Donie Shine explains. “Now that, to my mind, simply doesn’t make sense.
“If you put this theory into a dairy farming context, it would be like suggesting that a dairy animal which has never gone off the farm will produce better milk than a cow that has. And in an age when many dairy farmers are joined in contract rearing of heifer calves with other farmers, and perhaps buying in in-calf heifers or springers later on, such a suggestion with regards to milk quality and movement would be laughed at. Yet, here in beef farming, we have to abide and accept such rules.”
It’s a movement system restriction more suited to English farming methods than Ireland, according to Donie Shine.
“It’s actually an English rule on Irish soil. It was devised in England and it has been imposed on us here with almost 10 years.
“The average acreage in England is between 500 and 1,000 acres. So an animal can be born on the farm, and slaughtered off the farm. They have the land structure to take the animal, from beginning to end.
“We have more fragmented farms here in this country. And it is therefore a rule more suitable to English farming methods.
“It was the IFA and the meat industry who initially agreed on the setting up of the movement rule in Ireland, a fact Minister Creed has acknowledged in answer to Dáil Questions.
2So to be honest with you, our problem is not with the Government.”
In an effort to resolve the movement issue, the Farm Rights Group are in ongoing talks with the meat industry and supermarket chains, with the group reporting a positive response from these talks. Over the coming months, along with taking the petition to all of Ireland’s marts, the Farm Rights Group will be holding a serious of public meetings highlighting the issue, with chairman Donie Shine vowing that the campaign will go on “for as long as it takes”.