IFA President Tim Cullinan.

Beef sector should be celebrated as a 'unique national asset'

IFA President Tim Cullinan has said that the country's beef sector should be celebrated as a unique national asset.

Speaking at the Tullamore Show and FBD National Livestock show today, the IFA chief commented: “What’s on show today is testament to the passion, commitment and investment of farmers who take great pride in what they produce.

"Contrary to some commentary about livestock farming, we should celebrate what they do, not denigrate it,” he said.

“The Food Vision beef sub group is currently looking at proposals for the future of the sector. Any further attempt to undermine our suckler sector would be economic treason and would be likely to increase global emissions, rather than reduce them,” he said.

“The suckler and wider beef sector contributes hugely to the economic and social sustainability of rural Ireland. It is a complete fallacy to say we should reduce or restrict beef production in Ireland with Brazil and other countries waiting in the wings to further escalate production with a much higher carbon footprint,” he added.

The Irish suckler beef herd is a national asset that converts grass, much of which is grown in places that are not suitable for any other type of farming, into protein for human consumption.

“The Government needs to support the sector more and they must come forward with an enhanced Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme for Sucklers (BEEP-S) for 2023 and future years, in the upcoming budget on September 27th,” he said.

IFA National Livestock Chairman Brendan Golden said our €2.5bn beef sector is built on the highest production standards and image of the world-class beef produced from our suckler cow farms. Suckler cow numbers are in serious decline and we are at a critical stage, with less than 50% of our beef animals now coming from suckler herds.

Since 2018, there has been a 12% reduction in suckler cow numbers, leading to a reduction of over 20% in suckler beef production.

He said suckler farming is an extremely vulnerable sector. Average incomes are just over €10,000 a year.

Direct payments contribute 130% of FFI with new investment on suckler farms declining from €6,121 in 2016 to €4,490 in 2020, a drop of 27%.

“Suckler and beef farmers will play our part on climate action. Measures that are practical to implement; have the potential to add value on our farms; and contribute to the climate objective will all be considered,” he said.

“But the level of ambition for the sector will be determined by the level of Government and industry ambition to directly support farmers in the process. We do not have the economic capacity for extra investments or changes of practice on our farms.”

Measures include age at slaughter; genomic testing, animal health and targeted medicines usage; soil health and fertility; alternative crops; and support for generational renewal.

Brendan Golden said we cannot ignore the fact that our beef sector, which is the largest farming enterprise in the country, is most exposed to the impact of Brexit, our more productive suckler and beef farmers are most exposed to inputs inflation and these are the very same farmers hit hardest in the flawed Common Agriculture Policy and reduced targeted support commitments from Government.

The IFA Livestock Chairman said there is a real opportunity for Government now to come forward with a funding package to support suckler and beef farmers to ensure as a country we continue to produce beef at a time of real food security and food sovereignty concerns.

He said the tools are not yet available/proven that can guarantee specific emissions reduction at a national level. We cannot move faster than the science, technology and tools by setting arbitrary figures for the sector that have the potential to undermine food production, food security, food sovereignty and the socio and economic viability of our rural towns and villages.

Brendan Golden said the suckler herd and beef originating from it has reduced by over 20% since 2018. The plans for the sector must take this into account and set about protecting this critical national resource.