17,000 at UK’s Livestock Event but Minister George Eustice was notable absentee

Irish firms at the recent Livestock Event in Birmingham were promoting grassland systems, genetics, and Irish cattle.
17,000 at UK’s Livestock Event but Minister George Eustice was notable absentee

There seems to be increasing interest among British milk producers in spring calving, and in lower cost grassland systems.

Last February, there was a 14% increase in the number of calves born that month.

UK dairy farmers are looking at methods to stem the losses now being incurred by many of them, after farm-gate milk prices slumped by more than one-third since peaking at about 31p per litre last year.

According to the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), nine dairy farmers a week are exiting the UK industry.

And one of these will be David Handley, the high profile leader of Farmers for Action.

He has a herd of 140 Jersey cows, and is selling them off as they calve, because he is losing money and is not prepared to incur further losses.

Lamb prices have slumped also, and against that background, farmers were very unhappy that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) minister George Eustice “snubbed” the Livestock Event, which is billed as the leading business-to-business event for the livestock industry in Britain.

Mr Eustice was due to visit the two-day event at the Birmingham NEC on Wednesday.

That was postponed until the following day — and then cancelled altogether.

A Defra spokesperson said the minister was unable to attend, because of diary commitments. One can hardly imagine Minister Coveney doing likewise at any major Irish agricultural event. Farmers said Mr Eustice should have been among the estimated 17,000 visitors to the Livestock Event to hear first-hand the problems facing the sector.

Despite poor milk prices, dairy farmers are still investing in new technology, bigger buildings and more high powered machinery, to help them improve performance and reduce costs.

Another consideration is that their annual investment allowance tax break on plant and machinery purchases is set to fall.

It had risen to £500,000, and was due to drop to £25,000 from the start of 2016, but has now been set at £200,000 going forward.

One milk producer with 1,100 cows and 700 followers, said he was at the Livestock Event to invest in a self-propelled mixer wagon, at a cost of £165,000.

This will cost him £15,000 more than the combined cost of a tractor, loader and trailed wagon, but will greatly reduce the time required to feed the herd.

A North Yorkshire farmer said that he had increased milk from forage by 1,000 litres per cow, by better feed mixing, and changing the way it was fed.

Although the number of trade stands was well down, the farmer attendance was up, so the trade exhibitors I spoke to were happy with the quality and number of enquiries received. However, there were very few Irish visitors, as the first day of the show clashed with the popular IHFA open day hosted by the Hannan family at Crecora, Co Limerick,.

There were over 40 companies from Ireland north and south at the Livestock Event.

Their range of products and services included animal health, concrete slats, cow mats, dairy genetics and livestock supplies, machinery, milking equipment, mixer wagons, slurry storage solutions, zero grazers etc, and they all appeared to be doing business.

Some of these firms use English address in their literature to give them a marketing advantage. One exhibitor from Northern Ireland told me a Northern Ireland address is not really considered to be British!

With livestock farmers in Britain being priced out of the straw market by the demand for fuel crops such as forage maize and straw, there is an opportunity for concrete manufacturers and companies such as Croom Concrete from Limerick, and other Irish firms who are supplying cattle slats, cubicle beds feed and water troughs, slurry channels, road underpasses and wall panels.

Matt Costello from Croom Concrete told me that despite poor milk prices, herd size was increasing in Britain, so dairy farmers are building bigger accommodation for their cows, which is good for his business.

Mayo Mats from Belmullet were at the show; they claim theirs is the most used cow bedding in the world, with over one million mats in use. Their customers over the last 30 years have included Prince Charles. Another Connacht company marketing cow mats was Easyfix from Ballinasloe; both firms were happy with the show.

Farm safety was highlighted at the show; the latest figures from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed 33 fatal injuries to agricultural workers in 2014/15, an increase of six compared to 2013/14, but in line with the UK’s five-year average of 33 deaths.

One English farmer was recently jailed because of a fatal accident on his farm.

And a survey of British animal vets revealed that more than half (53%) had suffered injuries on farm over the last 12 months.

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