Beef industry and Bórd Bia must provide clarity on future of bull beef

3rd January, 2013

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association beef chairman Edmond Phelan has said that finishers who are sick of the uncertainty around bull beef are more likely to exit beef fattening than to switch to heifers and steers. He called on Bórd Bia and the beef industry to “either provide clarity on whether there are markets for bull beef or else come clean and advise farmers that they are wasting their time finishing cattle in this country.”

“The knock-on implication for the suckler herd is serious. If there is no market for bull beef then the economics of keeping quality sucklers just won’t stack up. The reality is that steer beef is just not efficient enough to cover the cost of a quality continental weanling and, at the same time, bull beef at 16 months is too costly and fails to utilise our competitive advantage of grass.”

“It’s easy to say that farmers need to adapt but experienced finishers who buy top quality continental weanlings know that the carcass weight gain and feed conversion efficiency of bulls is far superior to steer finishing systems. However, that is based on 450kg carcasses from cattle less than two years of age. The problem with steers is that you have to buy heavier animals and keep them too long to get to the same weights and these inefficiencies undermine the system.”

However, these bull finishers are now at the end of their tether faced with factories who say they have no worthwhile market for bulls and who are suggesting that bulls will be not much more valuable than cows.

Going back to steers is not an easy option as suckler farmers cannot afford to produce quality weanlings at any less and do not want the setback in performance that castration implies, Mr Phelan said.

“Unless markets can be found, the solution for some farmers will be to get out of beef and contract rear heifers for dairy farmers.

“The consequence of this will be to close down the quality suckler herd. Without viable markets for continental bulls, there is no subsidy imaginable that will compensate the suckler farmer.”

Mr Phelan also slammed the beef industry for cynically encouraging dairy bull beef a couple of years ago with a view to undermining live exports of calves. “Now they have pulled the rug from under the feet of farmers who fed dairy bulls. Dairy bulls are making at least 50c/kg less than this time last year – a drop of up to €200 a head.”

“Maybe it’s time for the Minister to admit that the beef element of targets of Food Harvest 2020 are pie in the sky and that the future beef industry will involve processing cull dairy cows, while dairy bull calves are exported to veal units and suckler herds are decommissioned.”