Calf export trade faces shipping bottleneck
Tax issues and income fears the biggest blocks to farm succession Spring shipments could be halved to 40,000 calves due to lack of ferry and lairage capacity, warn exporters
DIFFICULTIES with ferry schedules and lairage capacity could significantly restrict calf exports this spring, industry sources have warned.
The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and senior officials at his department maintain that up to 80,000 calves a month will be exported from the end of March, but a leading shipper claimed exports from the Republic could be limited to around 45,000 calves a month.
With tens of thousands of calves starting to hit the ground on newly expanded dairy farms across the country, pressure will be mounting to secure an export outlet for as many Friesian bulls as possible.
Seamus Scallan of the Wicklow Calf Company claimed that the projected capacity to export 80,000 calves per month was totally overstated.
He pointed out that the new Irish Ferries ship, the WB Yeats, is due to operate on the Dublin-Cherbourg route from March 14 but will sail on the same days as the Stena Lines vessel from Rosslare.
Both ships will sail every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and are capable of carrying 12-13 calf transporters. As each truck carries over 300 calves, this gives a theoretical capacity of 7,200 calves per sailing or more than 20,000 calves per week.
However, Mr Scallan pointed out that EU regulations stipulate that the calves must be rested after the sailing. As the two lairages in Cherbourg take just 4,000 calves, this means a maximum of 13 trucks, with a total of 4,000 calves, will be allowed to leave Ireland for Cherbourg each day.
Given that both ferries sail on the same three days a week, calf exports out of Ireland will be restricted to 12,000 head per week.
March and April are the busiest months for calf exports, with around half of total annual numbers shipped overseas in this two-month period.
Mr Scallan said that around 1,0001,500 of these calves will be sourced in Northern Ireland, meaning that the total number of southern calves exported each week could range from 10,500 to 11,000 head. This equates to 42,000-44,000 per month.
“The fact that both ferries are sailing on the same day means that the lairage capacity in Cherbourg is the main bottleneck,” said Mr Scallan.
“EU regulations mean we have to rest the calves after the sailing. And if we don’t have confirmation that we have a place in the Cherbourg lairages, then we won’t be let on the ferry,” he added.
A second exporter, who declined to be named, also expressed extreme concern and worry over the current scheduling and lairage capacity issues.
It had been suggested that the Irish Ferries ship WB Yeats would operate every second day from March 14, meaning that it would sail on alternate days to the Stena Line ferry out of Rosslare on two weeks in every four.
This would double the calf export capacity on those weeks as there would be seven ferries landing in Cherbourg on seven days — rather than six ferries on three days — and the lairage would be free to take the 13 calf trucks or 4,000 calves each day.
Such a schedule would have enabled 28,000 calves to be exported on two weeks of every month, with a further 12,000 shipped on each of the other two weeks. This gives a total of 80,000 calves per month.
However, in response to a num- ber of queries from the Farming Independent, Irish Ferries stressed that the WB Yeats is scheduled to sail as per its website.
The online timetable has sailings scheduled for every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through March and April.
“The sailing schedule is on the website, so you can take any sailing dates listed as correct,” said an Irish Ferries spokesman.
He declined to comment on speculation Irish Ferries are in discussions to reschedule sailings on the Dublin to Cherbourg route to the alternate days from those operated by Stena Line’s vessel from Rosslare to Cherbourg.
Ireland exported 45,000 calves in March last year and 41,000 in April, with the bulk of these going to the Netherlands and Spain.
Joe Burke of Bord Bia explained that the numbers shipped are likely to increase this year, given the continued expansion in the dairy herd and reduced demand for calves from local farmers as a result of the beef downturn.
Calf numbers coming through the sales rings are still small but they expect a surge from the last week in February, mart managers report.
Exporters insist that some progress on either the lairage capacity in Cherbourg or the ferry schedules will have to be made by the end of this month when increased numbers are shipped.
Seamus Scallan said calves could start to seriously back-up in the system if these problems are not addressed. “All we need is one week of bad weather and ferries not to sail,” he warned.
At the ICSA AGM, Mr Creed said the export industry was “run- ning flat out to standstill because of the growth in the dairy herd”.
He warned one “slip” could be calamitous for the live export trade and warned the very highest standards of animal welfare must be followed for every step of the journey. Mr Creed said there was a “big problem” ringside with the breed of cow at calf sales.
“Without full knowledge people are buying a bit of a pig in a poke,” he said, adding they were looking at the possibility of DNA testing the calves to assure buyers.