Macra president: Vital need to keep on top of market forces

As farmers, we are price takers and have little control over the price we receive for our products. A huge proportion of our time is consumed dealing with external factors to our businesses and those of the farmers we represent.

Those external factors I speak of include Brexit, exchange rates, weather, trade deals and commodity prices.

They are just some of the factors that have a huge effect on the profitability and viability of our businesses.

They will continue to occupy our time and minds as we go about our daily farming activities and work as representatives of and on behalf of farmers.

Earlier this month I attended the very impressive Teagasc Beef 2016 open day, held at the Grange research centre.

The theme of this year’s open day was “Profitable Technologies”. This was a great opportunity for Teagasc to showcase all the invaluable work and research that is ongoing in the beef sector.

There was a significant amount of information to be consumed and available to farmers.

External factors are very important and in most cases beyond our control. However, there are many internal factors that we can influence inside the farm gate. Aside from the negative effect that external factors can have on our income.

The internal ones are equally real, more controllable and can only result in improved efficiency at farm level, thus improving our sustainability as an industry and most importantly, improve our incomes.

The main variable identified for increasing profitability on livestock systems were increased grass utilisation, maximising animal performance and optimising stocking rates.

Soil fertility and the fact that 90% of our soils are at sub-optimal soil fertility, improved breeding practices, regular weighing of animals to measure performance and having a herd health plan are all critically important elements to drive the variables above.

Every extra tonne of grass consumed results in an increase of €105 in profitability per hectare, increasing calving rate by 5% will result in a €54 increase in profitability per hectare, calving at 24 months versus 36 months will result in an increase of €112 per hectare and increasing live weight gain by +0.1 Kg/day will result in an increase in profitability of €78 per hectare.

Given the current low levels of profitability across the livestock enterprises the Teagasc figures are very significant. It is also worth noting that by implementing the four measures above reduces the impact on your carbon footprint by 10%.

This feeds into the messages from the Bord Bia Origin green programme that improved efficiency not only results in additional money in the farmer’s pocket but also reduces our carbon footprint which in turn makes us more sustainable.

The beef event in Teagasc Grange made me focus even more on how we can sell the message to farmers both young and old, that improving efficiency which will result in an increase in income and profitability at farm gate level. The figures I have outlined should be enough.

At this stage you might ask what is Macra na Feirme doing to sell the efficiency message to young farmers? Macra was founded back in the mid 40s to educate young farmers on the practical skills of farming in the absence of a structured formal education system.

The strategy was that young farmers could learn and use the knowledge they gained to produce food and provide a livelihood for their families. As I travel across the country serving the membership and fulfilling my role as National President I hear from older farmers that Macra was their “university”.

We continue to give young farmers that professional development and the practical skills of farming through our organisation, but also through our Macra na Feirme Young Farmer Skillnet program which provides further practical training to young farmers.

The skills gained through our programmes and activities equip young farmers with the skills to deliver on the factors at farm level which Teagasc spoke of as key drivers of profitability, grass utilisation, maximising animal performance and optimising stocking rates.

The government through the recently established knowledge transfer groups is another vital component in dispersing the knowledge and research that exists and was on display at Teagasc Grange.

Macra na Feirme and myself in my role as national president have encouraged young farmers to get involved in the groups. Knowledge transfer groups will be vital but more will be needed to drive the efficiencies at a farm gate level.

The industry has a road map for the development of our food and agri industry in the form of Foodwise 2025.

Young farmers need to look at their own business and see where they can improve via efficiency at a farm level to increase their income but the external factors unfortunately will continue to influence prices and occupy us as farmer representatives.


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