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