Beef price lift is long over­due, but state of play in the back-end will be the real test

Irish Independent - Farming - - OUR FARM - John Heney

Im­prove­ments in the prices paid for cat­tle at the marts and fac­to­ries, de­spite the threat of Covid-19 and Brexit, re­mind me of an old story about one of the fa­mous Pur­cell broth­ers, who shipped huge num­bers of Ir­ish cat­tle to Bri­tain.

When asked by a farmer what he thought the mar­ket for cat­tle would be like in the back-end, Mr Pur­cell said first of all, you must look at all of the in­di­ca­tors: the Bri­tish econ­omy, the avail­abil­ity of ships for trans­port­ing the cat­tle, the sup­ply of fin­ished cat­tle in Ire­land and the sit­u­a­tion with UK im­ports of cheap beef from South Amer­ica.

When you have all of these fac­tors taken into ac­count and reached a con­clu­sion, Mr Pur­cell said you should ex­pect the ex­act opposite to hap­pen.

While this ap­pears to be what’s hap­pen­ing at the mo­ment, the prob­lems relating to Coved-19 and Brexit haven’t gone away and could yet deal a blow to prices in the back-end this year.

Mean­while, ev­ery­day life must con­tinue on the farm. This year I de­cided to go the round bale route for my second-cut silage.

I felt that adding more silage to my main pit would have re­sulted in silage left over from last win­ter re­main­ing un­used for a second year.

And with the grass very dry this year, I felt that seal­ing it prop­erly in a pit could be very dif­fi­cult.

Thanks to my con­trac­tor I was able to take full ad­van­tage of one of the short fine spells we got last month. The grass was very dry when it was baled very late in the evening, just hours be­fore the rain ar­rived.

Agri­cul­tural con­trac­tors get lit­tle recog­ni­tion for the very im­por­tant role they play in Ir­ish farm­ing. With­out their help, farm­ing in Ire­land would grind to a halt.

This year I be­gan top­ping my graz­ing fields in early May. This is ear­lier than usual for me, but I feel it has re­ally helped with grass qual­ity. When you rely solely on fresh grass to ‘fin­ish’ cat­tle, grass qual­ity is of para­mount im­por­tance.

While the cat­tle trade is quite pos­i­tive at the mo­ment, what does the fu­ture hold?

A re­port from the high­pro­file UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) says global food mar­kets must still brace them­selves for un­cer­tainty in 2020/21 be­cause of Covid-19.

It points out that while internatio­nal meat prices have fallen by 8.6pc since Jan­uary 2020, at a global level there is still enough food for ev­ery­one.

The re­port adds that lo­gis­ti­cal bot­tle­necks and a steep de­cline in global trade have re­sulted in sub­stan­tial vol­umes of meat products re­main­ing un­sold.

In another re­port which many feel is lit­tle more than a stalk­ing horse for the biotech in­dus­try, the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum (WEF) make the breath­tak­ing claim that their “Nature-led” coro­n­avirus re­cov­ery plan would cre­ate $10 tril­lion a year in new rev­enue streams as well as 400 mil­lion jobs glob­ally by 2030.

It ap­pears that their vi­sion for the fu­ture of food lies not in “Nature” as we might un­der­stand it, but in large cor­po­rate-con­trolled biotech­nol­ogy/GM food pro­duc­tion units.

Or­di­nary farm­ers, which the WEF dis­parag­ingly dis­miss as “mil­lions of small­holder farm­ers that can hardly feed their own fam­ily or sat­isfy their basic needs” would ap­pear to have no fu­ture in WEF’s vi­sion of fu­ture food pro­duc­tion. When you com­bine these ideas with the ap­par­ent pri­or­ity given to in­dus­try and ser­vices in the re­cent EU Budget, there is lit­tle in­di­ca­tion that the dark clouds hang­ing over farm­ing will dis­ap­pear any time soon.

How­ever, when I re­mind my­self of Mr Pur­cell’s words of wis­dom spo­ken so many years ago and con­sider the amaz­ing nat­u­ral ad­van­tages we have in Ire­land for grow­ing food, I feel there is still very good rea­son for us to re­main pos­i­tive for the fu­ture of farm­ing here.

But it will need peo­ple and politi­cians with real vi­sion to guide us out of our cur­rent dif­fi­cul­ties. Un­for­tu­nately, it ap­pears that vi­sion is some­thing which many of our ru­ral-based politi­cians are not blessed with.

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