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Clare IFA chairman, Andrew Dundas. Photograph by John Kelly

Action needed to avert suckler ‘income crisis’

Thousands of suckler farmers in Clare are facing an “income crisis” unless urgent action is taken to address serious issues in the beef industry, local farm leaders have warned.

It has been claimed that weanling bull prices could drop by over €300 when sales commence next month.

Farming representatives are fearful that weanling prices may be down by as much as 25% on 2013 prices, which would reflect an overall drop of 80 to 85 cent per kilo in the average beef price.

With an estimated 5,000 suckler producers in the Banner County, the next few months will determine if this enterprise is viable.
Clare IFA chairman, Andrew Dundas, said the Single Farm Payment was effectively subsidising operators in a lot of cases, which couldn’t continue.
He confirmed the IFA is organising a meeting with the Northern Minister for Agriculture, Michelle O’Neill, to try and address the absence of Northern Ireland buyers in local marts and other issues.

If live exports are not substantially increased to try and reduce the over supply of cattle, Mr Dundas said suckler farmers will face serious problems trying to maintain their livelihoods.

He said the imposition of penalties on the quality payment system in factories for weanlings who are marginally under or over the required weight, is seriously hitting suckler farmers.

Unless beef prices improve substantially, he said suckler farmers would have to reduce their numbers in an effort to reduce costs.

Having encouraged farmers to keep bull Friesian calves, he recalled this resulted in an estimated 100,000 bull Friesian calves coming to the market last spring.

As the number of beef cattle going to the factories increased this year, he explained factories could afford to sell at a much lower price.

Clare ICMSA chairman, Martin McMahon, said suckler farmers would face an “income crisis” in the event that measures are not introduced to tackle plummeting weanling prices, which are threatening the viability of suckling enterprises throughout the county.

Mr McMahon, who is a suckler farmer, said it is absolutely vital that live exports to England and other European countries is dramatically increased to help stimulate a much-needed increase in beef prices.

He stated Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney needs to sit down with the Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture to resolve the anomaly affecting “numerical cattle”, which has resulted in the absence of Northern buyers.
If a Clare suckler farmer sells a weanling to a Northern Ireland buyer who finishes the animal, he cannot sell it as an Irish or English animal leaving the buyer in a frustrating limbo.

West Clare IFA representative Gerry Culligan said income reductions for local suckler farmers would have a major negative impact in the rural economy, as every €1 earned by a farmer generates an estimated additional €4 in the locality for agri-businesses and other traders.

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