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Importance of Irish Beef Industry Highlighted

The Teagasc National Beef Conference on “Achieving Profitability from Beef at Farm Level” is taking place today, Tuesday, 5 April in Cillin Hill, Livestock mart, Kilkenny.

Opening the conference the Minister of State for Food, Horticulture and Food Safety, Shane McEntee TD highlighted the tremendous potential of the beef sector and called for a positive approach to its development. He stressed the importance of the beef sector to Ireland’s economy, with 90% of Irish beef exported, valued at €1.5 billion in 2010.

Teagasc Director, Professor Gerry Boyle described the national beef herd as an important national asset for the country, one that hasn’t been forced to take a severe “hair cut”, and is generating 38% of agricultural output and earning valuable foreign earnings for the country through exports. Professor Boyle said that the target of a 20% increased in the value of beef output, set in Food Harvest 2020 is achievable, and is likely to be driven by adding value to existing output combined with an increase in bull beef systems for male dairy calves.

He reiterated Teagasc’s commitment to improving technical performance on beef farms through a dedicated team of Beef Business and Technology advisers backed up beef and nutrition specialists and underpinned by a comprehensive animal production and grassland research programme.

Static margins and low levels of profitability are a large part of the difficulty facing the Irish beef sector. The National Farm Survey shows that cattle farmers depend heavily on direct subsidies for their income, due to an underlying problem of a lack of profitability in cattle farming systems.

Head of Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc Dr Tom Kelly said; ”Cattle farmers incomes are hugely dependent on direct payments and on average they make up more than 100% of the Family Farm Income in recent years. Cattle producers must look at the amount of these payments that are being retained as farm income. Improved breeding, management and grass utilisation are key.”

Farmers at the conference heard how profitable grass based suckler beef production systems are operating at high stocking rates, calving in spring, with the mean calving date matched to the start of the grazing season, maximising the proportion of grass in the feed budget and achieving high levels of reproductive performance and carcass growth.   

Teagasc along with industry partners are working closely with a group of farmers through the Teagasc/Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef programme.  The average gross margins per hectare on these commercial farms have increased from €386 per hectare in 2008 to €563 per hectare in 2010. Over the three years an improvement of 45% in gross margin has been achieved.

At the conference, Teagasc launched its Road Map for Suckler Beef, which outlines the market and policy issues facing the sector, the shape and size of the industry in the future, and the actions required to achieve the technical performance indicators outlined. The most efficient suckler calf-to-beef producers finishing males as steers can expect to achieve a gross margin of €800 per hectare.