Knowledge of certain sectors of agriculture in this corner isn’t what it should be or what it’s desired to be. Poultry, pig farming and potato production are areas that haven’t really been encountered too often. However, even with a limited grasp of those facets of farming, it has been clear that challenging times have touched many areas.
Fluctuating fortunes are, like it or not, part of farming life. For all the understandable optimism surrounding the ending of milk quotas, it’s surely something that needs to be approached with caution. Challenges are likely to be as numerous as opportunities.
They appear to be manifesting themselves already, in fact. Reports of certain breeds of calves more or less being given away at marts are deeply disturbing and – on a broader scale – a matter of grave concern to the future of beef farming. If, as appears to be the case, there’s no uptake for the likes of Holstein Freisian calves, the prospect of dairy men changing their stock must loom on the horizon.
I know of one farmer who has introduced a Montebelliard cow to his herd recently while some time ago another was heard of whose entire milking herd is made up of the aforementioned breed. A bullock of the same variety came into the home herd shortly after Christmas and how that works out from a profitability perspective will be awaited with interest.
The travails facing bull finishers owing to the diabolical prices being offered by factories have been well documented. People should be cognisant of the long term effects of what has transpired. That there will be a drift away from bull beef production seems inevitable. Yet, if there is still a market for bull beef, demand will have to met and it may actually not be a bad time to at least consider rearing young stock as bulls.
Recent developments across many areas, mind you, would lead one to wonder is any sector of agriculture safe? Input costs seem to continue to rise everywhere. As more is learnt about pig production, it would appear that margins are getting ever tighter. Sheep farmers haven’t gone unscathed either.
Pressures in the sheep sector due to the threat of dog attacks and such like are great enough but recently farmers were hit with a different – and presumably unexpected – headache following Kepak’s decision to close their specialist sheep plant in Hacketstown, Co Carlow. Apart from the obvious job losses at the plant itself, many spinoff businesses are also liable to take a hit from the closure.
Furthermore, it leaves farmers looking for somewhere to send their stock for slaughter. Marts closing is one thing – in my lifetime, outlets at Ashbourne, Trim and Maynooth have gone. Meaning the nearest venues to sell stock from this locality and surrounding areas are Carnaross or Blessington. Trips to both of which necessitate the loss of a whole day away.
Even the mention of factories going, though, is an altogether more worrying departure. Aside from the same logistical problems that the mart closures threw up, does it not leave processors in an even more powerful position? At a time when that very scenario can be most ill-afforded.
Now, talk of farmers boycotting meat plants might be a bit extreme but if those taking farm produce continue to play hardball with the people they depend upon, perhaps giving them a taste of their own medicine is all they will take seriously.
That said, there are other options farmers could do worse than consider. While the recent trend of calves being bought in great quantities for export is not something I’d be overly enamoured by, live exports of weanlings and even bigger cattle may be well worth giving a go. Especially if it’s plainly not viable to be sending stock to the factories.
One of the great things about farming and its community is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. More than that, agriculture has continued to make a positive and vital contribution throughout the height of the economic difficulties. For all that, there are plenty of challenges facing farming and agri-business themselves. Overcoming them may be the biggest challenge yet.