Addressing the Food Vision Beef Group this week, IFA National Livestock Chairman Brendan Golden said the target for the sector should be to continue to produce beef from one of the most environmentally sustainable production systems in the world, based on our suckler herd.
He said our €2.5bn beef sector is built on the production standards and image of the world-class beef produced from our suckler cow farms.
The IFA Livestock Chairman said 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.
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 usag; 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.
Concluding his address to the group, 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.