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ON THE FARM: Transparency lacking in beef industry & what have The Beef Plan achieved

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Transparency is still lacking in the beef industry while The Clare Echo’s farming columnist Joe Melody this week questions what achievements have been made by The Beef Plan in 2019.

The past few days have seen an at times exponential growth in the numbers of cows calving. We are now at 28% of the dairy herd calved after a calving start date of February 1st. So far so good with an almost 50:50 split in gender. Our hectic spring schedule has been made all the more manageable by the addition of our neighbour and friend Jack Enright to the team. Jack is studying environmental science and agricultural management in G.M.I.T. He is doing is placement with us and we are very lucky to have him. Hailing from a dairy and beef farm, he has all the prerequisites of good stockman-ship and a strong work ethic.

After a wet start to our grazing plans, the cows are back to grazing full-time with one change this year. We are offering them about one kg of haylage as they leave the parlour. This is to help the transition for fresh calved cows from a diet of silage to a diet of predominantly grass. It seems to be working okay. We have a target to graze 40% of the farm before the start of March. This is to stimulate the grass plant and enable it to replenish itself so there will be enough grass on these paddocks by the first of April for the second grazing round.

It is disappointing this week to see the beef factories ceasing their opportunity to cut beef prices. This comes against the backdrop of strong demand for beef in our key markets of the U.K. and the European Union. The supermarket price for beef in the U.K. has risen in the past week alone. It’s very disheartening from a farmers point of view to see these cuts coming at a time where cash flow is so important coming out of the winter period especially with the unsustainably high cost base a winter cattle finishing system incurs.

After numerous reports on the beef industry aiming at transparency over the years, we are still none the wiser as farmers as to what level of profit each animal is leaving the processor. With the establishment of a lobby group just a few short years ago whose main interest was beef farming, the question now has to be asked what has that group delivered for farmers apart from a lengthy disruption to trade in the autumn of 2019.

The beef industry is now made up of a few huge processors who run super efficient operations, it is not obvious that each animal they kill is leaving them a huge margin. When we as farmers don’t have transparency as to what they can afford to pay for cattle were left with a niggling feeling that we are being inadequately remunerated for our stock. Suspicion abounds in this sector and rightly so because farmers are made feel as if their livelihood is constantly under existential threat. How can anyone plan for the future under these conditions, either to our great benefit or our great cost farmers are a resilient bunch so they will persevere.

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