Sustainable beef means ‘first and foremost’ economically viable
FLAGSHIP Teagasc Beef Open Day returns July 5
Supporting Sustainable Beef Farming is the theme of the Teagasc Beef Open Day when it makes its eagerly awaited return to Co. Meath next week.
One of the event organisers, Dr Paul Crosson, insists that sustainability will be discussed from the view of farms being financially sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable at Teagasc’s flagship beef event.
Conscious that the biennial event hasn’t been staged since 2018 due to the pandemic, the organisers have ensured the programme will both entertain and inform farmers from across Ireland. Paul Crosson, Head of Beef Enterprise, suspects farmers attending the open day will be cautiously optimistic about the beef sector.
“If you look at beef prices at the moment, in excess of €5/kg – nobody would have believed you if you had said that would be the price 12 or 18 months ago,” remarks the Cavan native.
Unprecedented input prices are the obvious source of caution.
“Urea fertiliser for example was €300/t in Spring 2021, and was had risen to in excess of €1,000/t this spring, so it’s a threefold increase in fertiliser price. Feed price also has an upward trend, going from in the order of €300/t to €450/t.”
He notes that in a fragmented sector each farm will have felt those price changes to varying degrees.
“If you are a finishing farmer selling at the first half of this year, you will have benefited greatly from the increase in beef price. Of course you will also have felt the feed cost increase as well.
“Most suckler farmers have spring calving herds– these weanlings won’t be available to sell until the back end of the year, so you won’t have captured much by way of increased sales prices yet. The hope would be that some of the additional value of finishing cattle this year will also benefit suckler farmers in the weanling sales, because obviously all farmers are facing increased costs,” said Dr Crosson.
At the open day Teagasc’s advisory department intend to reveal results of data gathered from an ongoing survey of how farmers are managing their grass growth in light of exorbitant fertiliser costs.
“Certainly the anecdotal evidence is that fertiliser usage has dropped back, particularly for grazing swards,” Dr Crosson observes. “However, the weather has been reasonably favourable so far this year and grass growth has remained good even with lower fertilizer application rates.
“In particular, we have seen some bumper crops for first cut silage this year. So the fear we would have had at the start of the year around the impact of lower fertilizer application on fodder supplies has lessened a lot,” said Paul, although he acknowledged that many farmers will still require a further 30% to 40% of their fodder budget to come in their second cut.
This all feeds into the central theme of this year’s open day - supporting a sustainable beef farming.
“Sustainable beef farming for us is first and foremost economically viable beef farming,” assures Dr Crosson. “So there will be a big focus on what those price changes mean for our benchmark farm systems – has profitability changed? To what extent? Is there a change in the ranking of different types of production systems?”
Obviously the second limb of sustainable farming is the environmental focus.
“The Food Vision beef group met for the first time last week, so now we are moving to developing the action phase of what each sector has to do to meet the environmental obligations – the beef sector are now starting to have that discussion,” says Dr Crosson.
A key target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the sector is to reduce slaughter age of beef cattle. Providing practical advice on reducing slaughter age is the key motivation behind one of the engaging demos at Grange which is a visual assessment of whether an animal is fit for slaughter.
“We know from national data on carcass fatness that there are opportunities to slaughter cattle earlier and so we will have animals which are under finished, over finished, and which are at the target fatness for slaughter. Different breeds have different visual cues when they are ready for slaughter,” explains Paul.
The grassland demo is always a popular demo, sparking discussions amongst the farmers.
“We will set up plots of grassland with different pre-grazing sward heights – farmers will be able to visually see the ideal height of the sward for the animal to perform to their maximum, and secondly, for that sward to be as productive as possible.”
Participants of the two new demonstration farm programmes, the suckler-focussed ‘Future Beef’ programme and the ‘Dairy Beef 500’ programme will be on hand to discuss what they are doing to increase their viability and sustainability, with the reduction of slaughter age a key component which will focus the minds of many at the open day.
The open day will end on a high note as leading experts in key areas will participate in a forum, which typically packs out the forum marquee.
The panel will include Prof Frank O’Mara, Teagasc Director, who is an authority on mitigation of greenhouse gases from the agricultural sector; Prof Alice Stanton of the Royal College of Surgeons will speak about her studies on where red meat fits in a balanced diet; Phelim O’Neill of the Irish Farmers Journal will discuss the factors behind the drivers for current beef prices and if it is likely to continue; and Mayo suckler farmer Michael Biggins will give the perspective of a farmer on the ground. The forum will be moderated by former politician and well-known radio presenter Ivan Yates.
“I think it will make for a really entertaining as well as informative forum,” predicted Paul.
The Beef Open Day is a free event taking place in Grange, Co Meath on Tuesday, July 5. Pre-registration is not essential, but is desirable for the organisers. See www.teagasc.ie for more.