At Cavan Crystal Hotel
The recurring battle cry from last Wednesday’s meeting of the Beef Plan Movement in the Cavan Crystal was for beef farmers to “take back control”.
It was with that sentiment which Cavan farmer Pat Smith introduced the inaugural meeting of the Beef Plan Movement in the county. Wednesday’s public meeting was the latest in a series of meetings, following up in similarly well attended meetings in Roscommon, Mayo and Laois. According to Ballinagh suckler farmer Padraig Duffy manning the door and €10 registration fees, they had at least 350 new recruits up for the fight. They’re aiming for 40,000, which would equate to about half the beef farmers in Ireland, to give them leverage.
“It’s going to be a tough road ahead,” acknowledged Padraig. “But we have to stand up and do it for ourselves, no one else is going to do it.
“Every man who walked out the door is after bringing four or five forms with him. Everyone’s doing their bit.”
The driving force behind the Movement, Eamon Cor ley, addressing the hundreds filling the majority of seats, and lining the walls of the function room:
“I send out a message: if you want to fight for your industry come here, because this is our industry, and we deserve to be paid for our work the same way as factories, as retailers, and all the other stakeholders in the industry. I don’t know any other person who works and doesn’t get paid for it.
“At the moment we own the land, we own the calves, we’re responsible for those calves being born, so it’s in our hands to control this and the only thing that is stopping us from controlling this is ourselves.”
The Meathman insisted that farmers are “up for the fight” and will remain united. He outlined the well rehearsed key points of the Movement, namely to lobby TDs to introduce law in Ireland to guarantee a cost of production price plus a margin; lobby MEPs for a corresponding EU law; and to bring their demands directly to the factories - price being the key concern.
“We will give them time to consider that, but once that period of time is over we’ll be ready to push the button. And when we push that button, we’ll be depending on every farmer in this room to go with us and stand behind us, and use our influence and our power as a group of people. We won’t be outside the factory protesting, we’ll be at home working, and we’ll have decided we’re not sending our cattle into the factory that day, and that factory can go half empty and we don’t care. They’re going to have food contracts and that meat is going to have to appear on supermarket shelves – if we do that a few times at short notice, it is going to bring these people to the table to negotiate.”
Pat Smith’s Monaghan counterpart, Micheál Rafferty spoke of his refusal to buy into the assumption that a beef farmer must have a second job. He recalled doing his Green Cert and explaining: “Some of the projects you were being asked about was how much income is coming into your household from wages to justify you operating as a beef farmer? I think that there’s an assumption out there that you can’t be operating your farm the way you want unless you’ve got a wage to subsidise it. I don’t buy into that idea. Our farm reared three of us – there was no working off the farm, there was no need for two incomes and the land is still the same and it’s being looked after the same, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be pushing to make a living for ourselves to rear our children.”
The father of three said he was reluctant to encourage his children to follow his passion for farming.
“It’s a bit of a battle to bring them around the farm or not, because if they end up getting attached to the farm as a way of living, you just end up making slaves out of them, and nobody wants to pass on a farm to the next generation to sentence them to a life of slavery.”
He spoke of bringing a “super heifer”, a first time calving U grade heifer to the factory.
“I only got €1,320 for a 410kg animal – that is not an acceptable return for a smashing animal.”
He concluded with the night’s recurring rallying cry: “We have to unite and to manage what we have the power to manage – our numbers and the material that we own.”
Nevan McKiernan, secretary of Irish Charolais Cattle Society accepted that while price was understandably the issue on farmers’ minds, he was concerned for the state of the herd. He expressed his view that the Beef Data Genomic Scheme was “disgraceful to say the least”.
“I’m sure the majority of people here are not happy with the BDGP scheme – it was the best market that was ever developed for dairy cross cattle, and it’s directly into the suckling herds. That’s highlighted in the fact that a half bred dairy cross cow has a higher place in the index than your three quarter bred suckling cow. If that’s not telling you to get rid of your suckling cows and fill the field up with half bred dairy cows, I don’t know what is – and that’s what’s being told to you at the minute.”
He gave the example of one farm’s herd which was “doing everything to perfection”.
“Their calves per cow per year is impeccable – the calving interval, everything is exceptional, but yet they’re making a serious loss per cow – the reason being: the cattle that they’re killing are dairy cross cows and they’re not even fit to pay to keep the cow... At weaning they’re doing very well because the cows have lots of milk, but when you go to thrive on after weaning, they’re doing nothing between weaning and slaughter.”
He concluded with the following dire warning, that it was his view that “it [BDGP] is destroying the good cattle in this country and they will go – they will be gone by the time the scheme is finished, the good cattle will be gone because you are being forced to breed cattle which is a by-product of the dairy herd, that’s the reality of it.”
Meanwhile, cattle exporter Willie Fay, and supporter of the Beef Plan Movement claimed that a major problem was the amount of regulation that Irish farmers were subject to.
“We’re working for some organisation that’s called Ireland. We’ve that many people pulling out of a calf when a calf is born it’s unbelievable – you could go 15, 16 by the time that calf is killed at the factory.”
He saved much of his ire for the quality assurance scheme.
“The Quality assurance system is 12c extra that you’re supposed to get on your animal, but if you’ve a lighter carcase of an animal you don’t get it, you get penalised. If you’re a man who’s feeding bulls, you turn around and kill your cattle, you’d like to get them up to 450kg. Bang! You’re penalised at 400kg, if it’s a kilo over 400kg your penalised.
He added: “12c extra means nothing because 50% of the kill of cattle is going to into an English market – that’s 18,000 cattle going into the English market that’s not quality assured, why? The English do not recognise Quality Assured cattle. So why are we Quality Assured?
“In France they’ve their own system – you can kill any animal up to 24 months in France; any carcase weight, makes no difference, but in Ireland we’ve a different regulation.”
He further criticised the ‘movements’ system.
“If you bring a calf to a mart tomorrow and you don’t sell your calf because your not happy with the price you’ve a ‘movement’ straight on that calf – that calf goes to an export centre, it can’t be exported, why? Because there’s a movement on it. It might be over 14 days of age, but he’s to be brought in and be kept there till he’s six weeks of age that you can test him. Why are they doing this?”
The floor was opened up to a lively debate, for Cavan farmers to add their concerns to the 86 points already on the beef plan.
Will unity be enough to see them implemented? Only time will tell.