Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has joined in efforts to increase facilities in France needed for increased Irish live exports, following warnings by exporters that calf prices will collapse.
The bottlenecks facing the calf export trade were spelled out last week by Seamus Scallan of the Wicklow Calf Company. He said there is capacity for only 10,500 calves a week in the two lairages in Cherbourg, France, where Irish calves must be rested for 12 hours before continuing on their journey to destinations on the Continent.
“We should be peaking at 18,000 to 20,000 calves in each of our five or six busiest weeks,” said Mr Scallan.
“We cannot get the calves out, because there is no room. We have the customers for the calves, we have the capacity to handle them at our export points, and we have the trucks to bring them. The ships are not a problem at the moment. The problem is the lairage.”
The Taoiseach said this week, “It is very relevant, as we head into Brexit, that we do all that we can to assist the beef industry to diversify into other markets, including France and the mainland market in the EU. I am aware of the problems in Cherbourg.”
He said he would make sure it is part of any bilateral discussions with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who visited Dublin this week for Middle East peace talks hosted by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.
Last year, some 166,000 calves were exported from Ireland. Mr Scallan said last week, “We think that something along the lines of 200,000 calves will be going out this year, because of the price of beef, farmers and new entrants coming into the dairy sector, and other issues. We are going to have an awful lot more calves to go out.”
He also warned of calf shipping problems when the weather turns bad, and revealed this happened recently and his company could not export two trucks of calves ready for shipping.
“We are going to have serious welfare issues in respect of the calves when we get two bad days together.
“The whole problem with this issue is that the livelihood of every farmer depends on the two men who own the two lairages that look after all our business in France,” said Mr Scallan.
“We need a back-up and a contingency plan for bad weather so that, when the weather is going to be bad, we can use the alternative lairage which we were able to use for the last number of years, which is four hours further than Cherbourg. We cannot use that lairage any more, because of the legislation which was introduced.
“There is capacity for an extra 4,000 calves per sailing which we cannot use.”
“The price of calves is going to collapse in Ireland.
“Farmers are not interested in buying them, because we are losing €200 or €300 per carcass.
“The dairy farmers who are keeping them are not going to keep the extra calves, because there is no money in it.”
Live exporters and the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, ICOS, have suggested a lairage in France for six to eight weeks of the year for resting and feeding calves as required by welfare regulations could be rented by the Department of Agriculture or by Bord Bia, which gets a levy of €1.90 per calf.