AN estimated 170 producers attended the recent Northern National Beef Association (NBA) Northern Ireland autumn farm walk.
The venue was the Clough suckler beef unit owned by Stephen Heenan. He manages the farm in tandem with his son Andrew.
They run 70 commercial breeding females as well as 12 pedigree Charolais cows. The farm is mainly grass/silage based, growing 15 acres of arable to supplement feed.
Stephen is an advocate of ‘Quiet Wean’ nose flaps, which allow calves to be weaned while running with the cows to avoid distress while coming off their mothers. A pen of weaned calves was showcased on the night. The event was sponsored by Crystalyx.
NBA chief executive Chris Mallon gave the keynote address on the evening
“The introduction of coupled payments as a mainstream support mechanism for suckler beef producers, post-Brexit, is not an option,” he said.
“World Trade Organisation rules will not allow it.
“There is scope for limited levels of coupled support within the current EU arrangements. And, with this in mind, the beef industry in Scotland is seeking the introduction of a headage payment on every suckled calf born in that country.
“But it is hardly likely that London will agree to a headage payment in excess of £200 on every suckler cow in the UK.”
Mallon was responding to claims that farming organisations in the Republic of Ireland will push to have a €200 coupled payment introduced for suckler cows, courtesy of the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) review.
“London is more like to favour a support policy that protects the environment and improves animal welfare standards,” he said.
Commenting on the scope of post-Brexit trading arrangements, Mallon indicated that London is under no legal obligation to accept only beef imports from countries that can guarantee production standards which mirror those that currently exist in the UK.
“This will only be the case if specific standards are cited in future trade deal agreements. At the end of the day, it will be consumers who decide which beef they want to purchase.” But Mallon did indicate that farmers must get a fair share of the money coming in at the retail end of the UK food chain.
“Government must act to put in place a Food Ombudsman with real teeth, where this matter is concerned. We need genuine transparency right along the food chain.”
Former Beef Farmer of the Year Sam Chesney attended the farm walk. He said that future support arrangements for the beef sector must specifically target active farmers.
“There must be a realistic support base put in place for those farmers actually producing food. If this comes in the form of a welfare payment to ensure that suckled calves are properly vaccinated and creep fed prior to weaning, so be it.
“But we must find a way to get the pseudo-active farmers out of the support net.”
Dr Francis Lively from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) also spoke at the meeting. He said that the potential to boost grass dry matter production levels on suckler beef farms is immense.
“Increase in the region of 25 per cent can be quite easily obtained,” he said.
“This should be regarded as a form of subsidy which almost every suckler herdowner can avail of. The introduction of coupled support payments will not help drive efficiency levels within the suckler sector. And, at the end of the day, this is the real challenge which confronts the local beef industry as a whole.”
Courtesy of his presentation, David Morgan, from Caltech Crystalyx, confirmed the recent introduction of a sheep welfare payment in the Republic of Ireland. “It amounts to €10 per head and has been made available to allow flockowners buy supplementary feeds over the coming weeks and months,” he said.
“So I see no reason why a similar scheme for suckler cows and sheep could not be introduced in Northern Ireland.
Commenting on the distinct prospect of a fodder shortage impacting on many livestock farms this coming winter Morgan said that cattle should be offered high-quality meals only.
“Growing cattle and pre calving suckler cows will benefit from a high quality feed block, such as Crystalyx Cattle Booster. This will help boost forage utilisation rates,” he added.
“Finishing cattle should be offered a high quality concentrate at all times.”