Crisis looming for suckler cow herd

SUCKLER cow numbers could slump by as many as 300,000 over the next two to three year period, in the process undermining the whole future of the Irish beef industry, a Galway farm leader has warned this week.

The ‘savage’ winter and spring period of 2012-2013 has prompted many farmers to cut back on suckler cow numbers with most marts reporting a major increase in cull cow sales over the past couple of months.

Galway IFA Livestock Chairman, Tom Turley, told the Farming Tribune that the present indications suggested that over the course of this year, suckler cow numbers would be down by around 120,000, reducing the size of the national herd to well below the one million mark.

“The cost of keeping a suckler cow over the course of a year is in the region of €700 to €750 and like everything else if something isn’t paying, there’s only so long that farmers will stick with it.

“Things came to a head over the course of the past winter as feed stocks ran out and many farmers really struggled to keep their stock fed – a lot of suckler farmers have just decided to cut back on numbers for this coming winter,” said Tom Turley.

He said, that over recent weeks and months, the IFA had been trying to get across to Minister Coveney, the critical importance of putting a meaningful coupling payment in place that would help to balance the books of the suckler farmers.

Mr. Turley said that this payment would need to be paid at a minimum level of €150 per cow while he also called for a return of the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme at its original level of €80 per cow.

“Unless these things happen, we will continue to see alarming reductions in our suckler herd numbers. If the suckler numbers keep falling at their present rate, this would be an absolute disaster for the Irish beef industry.

“At the end of the day, the suckler herd is the very basic building block for the whole industry. Unless the calves are being produced year-in, year-out, then the future of the Irish beef industry is in jeopardy – it is that serious,” said Tom Turley.

He also said that at a time when there was a growing emphasis on stimulating the economy, the value of each animal slaughtered, to the Irish economy, stood at €2,000.

“We are facing into a critical few months in terms of decision making on the nuts and bolts of the CAP agreement. The decision on coupling will be the biggest one for decades in relation to the future of our national suckler herd,” said Tom Turley.