Encouraging news for cattle farmers in the midlands has come from an unlikely source — the organic yoghurt maker, Glenisk.
Announcing plans to double their current workforce of 60 in the next four to five years, managing director Vincent Cleary said there is strong potential for growth in exports, on course to account for up to a fifth of their sales next year.
He said there were 20,000 suckler farmers barely making a living in the region, and Glenisk hopes to offer them an opportunity to enter the dairy sector and supply Glenisk.
It’s a new opportunity which may have come at an opportune time, with the latest data from the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Identification and Movement database indicating a significant slow-down in the number of replacement heifers being bred in suckler herds.
In order to maintain the national suckler herd, an annual replacement rate of 200,000 heifers calving per year is generally required. However, this year’s figure is likely to reach only 180,000.
The number of beef-bred heifers for which a calf was registered has slumped 18% in comparison to 2012.
Overall calf registrations to suckler cows have fallen more than 7.5%, after higher suck-ler culling this year, and slightly higher on-farm mortality figures.
With cattle farmers already tempted by Teagasc projections of potential income from dairy far ming of nearly €1,000 per cow with best practice management, the Glenisk overtures could find a willing audience, when the end of EU milk quotas in 2015 leave them free to enter dairy farming.
In the meantime, the beef industry will have to mount a major charm offensive, if it wants to keep the existing ‘
number of beef production farms in business. It will take a big effort in 2014 by processors to convince beef farmers that cattle farming comes near matching dairy.
Dairying also offers the market strength of co-operatives, in contrast to what IFA President John Bryan called profiteering on the backs of cattle farmers by meat processors and supermarket retailers, in September.
He said cuts to beef prices had generated deep anger among farmers, already frustrated at the unprecedented price gap of €1/kg or up to €370 per animal between UK and Irish prices for beef cattle.
After a severe winter and spring fodder crisis, IFA livestock chairman Henry Burns said farmers critically needed a period of strong, stable and profitable cattle prices — but it hasn’t materialised.
In October, ICMSA Beef and Cattle Committee Chairman Michael Guinan described the beef cattle price cuts of the previous three months as “shocking”.
And now, ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan warns of an emerging crisis of confidence in the beef sector, particularly linked to the increasing difficulty in getting young bulls slaughtered.
His anger is not alone due to beef prices not improving, but also due to finishers who specialised in young bulls getting the signal they are not wanted.
He says the young bulls which processors want to slaughter under 16 months cannot be economically finished on Irish farms, and that Teagasc research confirms this.
This has left finishers un-sure what to buy, coupled with ongoing frustration over arbitrary 30-month limits for steers and heifers.
It could be enough to drive drystock operators to organic milk.
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