Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 22 May 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Beef Data Genomics Programme: Discussion
We are now back in public session and will begin our discussion on the beef data genomics programme. I welcome from the Irish Charolais Cattle Society, Mr. Kevin Maguire, president, and Mr. Nevan McKiernan, secretary. I also welcome Mr. Noel McGoldrick, Mr. Christy Comerford, Mr. Alan Wood and the mart manager from Cashel, Ms Alison De Vere Hunt. I thank the witnesses for coming before this committee to discuss their concerns with the beef data genomics programme. I also understand that the witnesses wish to raise concerns around animal health and welfare too.
Before we begin I wish to inform the witnesses that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I now invite Mr. McKiernan to make an opening statement.
Mr. Nevan McKiernan:
I thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to appear before it today on behalf of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society, ICCS. The first issue we would like to discuss is the beef data genomics programme. Our first major concern is the volatility of the Euro-star indexes. This is resulting in a decline in the quality of our beef cattle.
It also allows the acceptance of cross-bred bulls as stock bulls within the scheme, which is something that breed societies cannot accept. Moreover, going back generations, I do not think the people who came before us would accept it. There has been a lack of communication from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, since the scheme was introduced. I also will refer to the ICBF board of directors. We would also like to highlight the issues around beef and the suckler herd versus the dairy herd. There are herd and human health issues involved in that regard. I also will discuss the negative impact it is having on the environment and will have on the environment, as well as the animal welfare issues.
In respect of the volatility of the Euro-Star indexes, it is very hard to explain in a short period of time the problems with this index and how they move. The basic requirements of the scheme are that the females must be genotyped at least three or four stars on the replacement index to meet the requirements. Stock bulls must be genotyped at least four or five stars underneath the terminal or replacement index to meet the requirements of the scheme. These indexes change three timers a year. Even after genotyping, these indexes can change more than €80 on the index. That can move an animal from a five-star to a one-star. One can imagine proceeding to pay a big price for a five-star replacement mix heifer today, and in two years' time she is down to a one-star.
For example, Glostermin Lady Heather is but one of many I could have picked. The reason I picked her was because the sire for her was subsequently owned by Mr. Michael O'Leary of Gigginstown Angus, the Ryanair chief. The father was a three-time all-Ireland champion. He is a reliable artificial insemination, AI, bull. If you look at her replacement index, it is explained in simple terms. In May 2016, she had a replacement index value of €120. She cost a lot of money when she was purchased, like many others. In May 2017, she was down to €94. Today, she is minus €9. She dropped over €100 and she does not even meet the requirements of the scheme today.
In another example, in April 2016, a list of AI bulls was sent around to the breed societies. The breed societies showed their concern about the index and how they were moving. They brought this to the attention of the ICBF at a beef industry meeting. There was one bull for example, Lanigan Red Deep Canyon, which had a replacement index of €269, one of the highest across all breeds. Today his replacement index value is €147. When genomics was first included in his index, he dropped from €269 to €155. When this was seen by the breed societies and in respect of numerous other bulls I could list, ICBF and whoever else was involved in the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, railroaded the scheme through in September 2016 and went ahead with release of the indexes with the inclusion of genomics, despite the breed societies having stated that there would be serious problems with doing this.
To explain in simple terms, the indexes were introduced as a tool and are a very useful tool when selecting and buying livestock. They are only a guide and a guide is all they can be. They cannot be linked to a scheme. The ICBF does great work and I do not want to take that from it. The federation produces a lot of good reports for farmers. The indexes, however, cannot be linked to a scheme. What it has resulted in is the decline in quality of our beef cattle. No matter what anyone says, the quality of our cattle is declining.
How is this happening? Our pedigree breeders are being forced to use reliable bulls because if they do not use highly reliable bulls they are taking the chance. That is because if they go to sell their stock they will not be able to sell them, because the figures will have dropped. As a result, we are all using the same blood lines. It does not make sense from a pedigree point of view and for the customers or suckler farmers we are selling to. Suckler farmers are then being forced to buy high replacement mix heifers from the dairy herd, which is all they can do. We see there are 750 farmers in the BDGP scheme who will not meet the requirements of the scheme at the end of this year. There are another 700 who will barely cross the line. What are they going to do? They have to go out and buy high index replacement females coming off the dairy herd. That is their only choice. If they do not, they will not meet the requirements.
The influx of high-index replacement females from the dairy herd is increasing the numbers of O and P grade cattle. The facts are there to show that.
In September 2017, a review was done of the quality of cattle going through the factories. Almost two of every three steers were classified as being Os or Ps. There was a 100% increase in P grade steers compared to the same period in 2012. O grade animals were up 20%. R and U grades declined by 35% and 26%, respectively. The same trend can be seen for heifers across the board. This trend will continue as long as there is a dairy influence on our beef herds.
A number of points made by 15 different mart managers from around the country support this. We asked them a simple question, namely, had the quality of cattle going through their marts improved or disimproved over the past three years. All 15 different mart managers say the same thing and I can pass these findings over to the committee for review. They will all say the quality of cattle going through the marts is deteriorating at a rapid rate that has never been seen before. It is plain to see that if we keep following the line we are on now., a country that was once known for producing top-quality beef cattle will soon no longer have that reputation.
The next point to examine is the acceptance of cross-bred bulls as stock bulls. I do not how this got passed in any scheme. Would a cross-bred stallion be allowed on a purebred mare? Would this be allowed for dogs? For years we have built up pedigree cattle to have a great reputation in the UK of producing quality cattle and we sell cattle to France but now, we are allowed to use cross-bred bulls in a BDGP scheme. Farmers were once penalised for having these stock bulls on their farm. Is it really genetic improvement we are engaged in or are we just trying to introduce or cause a decline in the quality of stock coming off our beef herds? We are told it is a Department rule and a number of times, I have asked whether it is a Department rule that cross-bred bulls are accepted in a BDGP scheme. At minimum, all stock bulls must be 100% pedigree.
On the lack of communication from the ICBF, as I have said already I am not here to run down the ICBF but I have to tell the truth of the matter on what is happening since the BDGP scheme was introduced. There no longer are beef industry meetings yet there are ongoing dairy industry meetings. There was no meeting of the ICBF held for over a year. There was no documentation kept of meetings or minutes kept. Breed societies want clarification on how the indexes were being calculated to understand them as, if we do not have this understanding, how will our breeders and suckler farmers throughout the country understand them or even meet the requirements of a scheme? The breed societies have requested a booklet explaining genomics. This booklet arrived yesterday, after having looked for it for more than a year.
Where do we start and how can it be fixed? As a breed society and as suckler farmers as a whole, the issue regarding the ICBF board of directors needs to be addressed. I have listed the board of directors and its composition and presented it to the committee. The number one matter is that there are six representatives from one AI company, yet we have six or more different smaller AI companies in the country. One AI company has a six-member representation on the board of ICBF, that is, Progressive Genetics, Munster AI and NCBC, all of which are under NCBC. One man represents 15 different breed societies. There are four members on the board from the Irish Farmers Association. We are told that the board is made up of representatives who are elected based on the number of shares that the organisation they represent has in ICBF. We would like to ask how many shares did the IFA have in ICBF? Is it appropriate that one AI company hold six directorships on the board when no other AI company has any? Is it appropriate that one man represents 15 different beef breed societies?
When we raised these issues, we were asked what did we propose. What we would like to see is a premium introduced for animals that are reared in the suckler herd. It goes without saying that animals coming from the suckler herd are reared naturally on their own mothers and are finished naturally. Animals that come off the dairy herd are reared in sheds from the day they are born. They are taken off their mothers from the day they are born and put in and fed processed food to replace their mother's milk. The increase of Johne’s disease in the dairy herds surely has to be a concern for us all, as we know its link to Crohn’s disease in humans.
Mr. Nevan McKiernan:
Okay, I accept that.
As for the negative impact on the environment, as of November 2017, 6% more cattle were slaughtered than in 2016, that is, approximately 74,000 head of cattle. Yet, meat production was just 4% higher. Carcass weights were down 4 kg per head. Steer carcass weights were down 5.4 kg per head. This trend is set to continue with an increase in the number of cattle coming from the dairy herd. Can we not see that by keeping more cattle to produce the same amount of beef in the future that this will have a negative impact on the environment? We will have to produce more cattle and keep more cattle on the land to produce the same amount of beef. If we do not, we will not be able to produce the amount of beef that we did in the past.
In conclusion, the ICBF Euro-Star indexes are a useful tool but they should not and cannot be linked to a scheme. If it continues, the quality of the cattle will continue to decline.
Cross-bred bulls should not qualify as stock bulls in any scheme. I would like all members to seriously consider this matter from the perspective of pedigree breeders or a man who rears sucklers having to buy a cross-bred bull for his herd.
The ICCS wants more communication and co-operation between the ICBF and breed societies. We would also like a review of the ICBF board and how it is formed and its purpose must be addressed.
The ICCS believes that beef from the suckler herd should be recognised as a premium product as it costs more to produce. Different organisations have mentioned the practice of taking calves from cows when they are born. Such a practice does not take place with a suckler herd.
I was going to comment on the impact that an increased amount of beef in the dairy herd has on the food chain. However, as Deputy Cahill does not agree, I will comment on another aspect.
Genomics has a vital role to play but first we must understand how genomics works and the best way to utilise it. We are aware that many highly reliable AI bulls have changed by as much as €100 on the Euro-Star index after genotyping. In other words, the rating improved from a one-star to a five-star rating.
I will conclude by saying that this country used to have a reputation for producing top-quality beef cattle but we will not retain our reputation if we continue on the current route. My colleagues and I would welcome any questions that members may have and we will do our best to reply. I thank the Chairman and members for listening to the ICCS presentation.
I welcome the delegation from the Irish Charolais Cattle Society here today. I thank Mr. McKiernan for his comprehensive statement, which contained a serious amount of questions.
I wish to declare that I am a dairy and beef farmer. I strongly believe there is no need for confrontation between these two sectors of the industry. At present, cows in the dairy herd make €3.75 a kilo, which shows there is a market for them. They are sold under a quality assurance banner and the meat factories actively tout for farmers to sell them their cows. Mr. McKiernan, in his presentation, has insinuated that the beef coming out of the dairy herd has questions marks over it. Such a claim detracts from the very substantial points that were made in the society's presentation. Mr. McKiernan has made a lot of very relevant points but confronting and questioning the source of more than 50% of our beef supply is, in my view, definitely not the road to take. Leaving that to one side, many relevant questions have been asked and I believe they need to be answered. We can put those questions to the delegation from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation when we meet them later today.
Mr. McKiernan asked why cross-bred bulls are being allowed to join the beef data genomics programme. I would like to hear the view of the ICCS delegation as to why that decision was made. I fully agree that it is illogical for replacements coming from the dairy herd to be given a rating as high as four-stars or five-stars on the genotype yet progeny from a good suckler dam is not given anywhere near the same rating. I am baffled as to why that is the case and believe the situation should be rectified. My brother-in-law is a suckler farmer so I am familiar with the industry.
Mr. McKiernan gave a second example of how the rating for a sire dropped on the replacement index thus reducing its value. Please explain why that happened. Was the rating based on fertility? Was it based on kill-out? Please outline the reasons for such a huge drop in the rating.
Mr. McKiernan outlined another example that I do not think was included in the presentation circulated to members. I refer to a case where the rating dropped very substantially. Can he explain the reason for the drop?
Mr. McKiernan raised questions on the board of the ICBF and made it clear that his society is unhappy with its decisions. He also questioned the composition of the ICBF board. There was an election for the AI stations lately and I noted that the representative from my local AI station lost out. What kind of voting pattern caused that to happen? Mr. McKiernan has claimed that one AI company has a six-member representation on the board of ICBF and, to me, that seems extremely undemocratic and unfair. South Eastern Cattle Breeding Society Limited is an company that provides AI and is located close to me. I know that the chief executive of the company was on the board of the ICBF up to a month or six weeks ago but he lost out in the last round of elections. Mr. McKiernan should please explain the voting structure. I fully agree with Mr. McKiernan that having one representative of the breed societies yet six directors from AI stations on the board would make a board extremely unbalanced. The farmers' representations on the board come from a cross-section of different farmers. One would hope and strongly believe that they would represent the views of their membership, which would be a cross-view.
Mr. McKiernan asked a serious amount of questions on behalf of his organisation. I presume that ICBF will try to answer them in the next session today.
The nub of this issue is the beef data genomics programme. The way that animals are graded in the replacements index seems unfair. Can the ICCS delegation recommend changes that would rectify the situation? Can they explain how the decision about the stock bull was reached in the first place?
In terms of the decline in the quality of beef cattle and the grading system, the drop in the number of suckler cows must be factored into the change in grades. Mr. McKiernan has said that mart managers can attest to the fact that the quality of animals from suckler herds has dropped significantly. Does the ICCS blame that on the maternal traits identified in the beef data genomics programme? Has the quality of the chosen paternal animal and dam contributed to the drop in grades?
That concludes my observations. I reiterate that conflict between two sectors in the industry does not benefit anyone.
I found the presentation very alarming. I refer to the stated objective of the scheme and that of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and the aims are outlined on its website. The presentation and experiences outlined by Mr. McKiernan suggests that the complete reverse is happening, which is absolutely extraordinary. I am alarmed that we have reached a situation where an organisation, like the ICCS, must attend a meeting of an Oireachtas committee in order to resolve an issue. What attempts has the ICCS made to meet the ICBF in order to outline its concerns and experiences? I assume that the claims made by Mr. McKiernan are evidence-based. What efforts have been made? What has been the response? Has the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine engaged with the ICCS on these issues? I reiterate that I found the presentation deeply alarming and appreciate that the ICBF will have an opportunity to respond here later this evening.
The format of the ICBF board has been mentioned. Who designed the board? Who put it together? Mr. McKiernan believes the ICBF does not represent the industry. Who made the decision to employ the current structure? One of the key things in any structure, particularly with the stated objectives of the ICBF, is to be representative. One wants a board to be representative and to listen. It is very important to listen to people's real experiences and to respond.
The witnesses gave the example of the deterioration in the sire. How can that happen with a three time all-Ireland champion? I know that is the question the witnesses are putting to us. How in the name of God can that calibre be devalued in that way? I would like a more in-depth understanding of that. I acknowledge that the witnesses have given a number of examples.
I thank the witnesses for the presentation. I am a strong supporter of the BDGP. It has helped to identify superior and inferior animals at an early stage and no one can gainsay that. It is extremely important in that context. The aggregation of statistics over a period with regard to genetic merit and evaluation of those is surely the best way to identify or point towards the most suitable animal, whether male or female, on a farm, which is critical. Are the witnesses suggesting that the volatility of the Euro-Star indices is leading to deselection of some good quality animals on a farm? Is the thrust of their argument that, because they lose the four star and five star nomenclature, identification or tagging, they are being wiped out?
I remember doing a study on the best way to produce beef more than 20 years ago. We have to ensure that beef does not come from a dairy farm but from within the beef industry itself. Many years ago, only one in four of our animals could penetrate the high quality and high priced markets of the European community. That has significantly increased over the past two decades. I recall that well. We cannot depend on the introduction and penetration of the Holstein breed for the high priced markets and that has to be questioned. I am interested that the change in our evaluation system over three periods of the year has led to significant difficulties with the scheme.
How many pedigree farm producers are there in the country? Many of our suckler farmers are struggling because of a number of issues, not least recent events, particularly the abolition of milk quotas. That is having a major impact on suckler farmers. Many people, not just suckler cow farmers but tillage farmers, are drifting into milk production. I hope they do not regret it five or ten years down the line. Be that as it may, we cannot stop them. That has led to a 4% or 5% drop and there is another 4% or 5% drop in the offing. It is not so long ago since we went had more than 1 million and we will be down to 800,000 in the not too distant future.
I am somewhat concerned about some aspects of the presentations. As Deputy Cahill said, it is better that we sort everything out without being overly confrontational. I come from a beef background like Senator Paul Daly. We want to ensure the highest quality beef production so that we can secure the highest return for our farmers. When the witnesses were making the argument, what was the Department's counterargument about crossbred bulls and half-breeds, as we call them, having to be included? The witnesses call them speakeasy bulls. Why was there was insistence by the Department that they be included?
Have the witnesses derived no benefit to the BDGP? Surely it has contributed some moneys over the past two years or so. I would not like to see a message leaving the room that the witnesses are flogging this out the window and that is the end of it. It is a worthwhile scheme. There is a great deal of nitty-gritty and typical departmental bureaucracy at the beginning, which is an impediment, but it has been adopted by a significant number of farmers and more farmers appear eager about it. We get demands here to increase the budget to be allocated to farmers over the next number of years.
I am disappointed that the witnesses say there is a lack of communication. I will cross-examine the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, about the fact that it is not communicating with people like the witnesses from the Irish Charolais Cattle Society, who have a significant input. I agree with Deputy Cahill that this is an area we should certainly dig into. I cannot understand why an executive from the ICBF could not hold a meeting with the ICCS executive to sort it out. It should be in a position to point this out. I am shocked that it is not explaining to the society how they indices are calculated. That is a basic requirement and a significant component. I would be interested in the make-up of the board. The Irish Farmers' Association and others have much to say when they come in to meet us. Surely they are not asleep at the wheel in making sure that information as salient and important as that was furnished to the ICCS by the ICBF over that time.
When the witnesses arrived, I noticed that a booklet appeared posthaste that they had sought for the guts of a year. That does not make sense. I am disappointed with that behaviour by an organisation that is comprised primarily of farmers. I do not know what way people are elected to the ICBF. The make-up of it seems a bit lopsided. If there is only one pedigree representative, which represents a significant number - I grew up with some representatives of that group - it looks a bit one-sided. On a 16-person board, 6% represent the people who are at the coalface of breeding. That sounds a bit Irish. One would not get away with it anywhere else. We will ask the ICBF directors how the structure of the board is arrived at because that is important. The ICCS is under-represented. I do not agree with everything the witnesses have said. Some of it was a little inflammatory but that is fair enough. I come from a party that is inflammatory as well and there is nothing wrong with that. We are not clones. I do not mind a bit of that. That is ground hurling. I do not agree with the witnesses but they are entitled to make the point. I am sure the ICBF will refer to the strength of its position but I am flummoxed. Did the ICCS make a submission to the board to try to increase its representation? If there are 15 or 16 different breed societies, they are surely entitled to more than one board representative. The lines of communication would surely improve with additional people representing the interests of the cattle breeders, who I am sure regard the best interests of the various societies and, ultimately, farmers that they represent as paramount.
Sometimes this boils down to no greater politics being played at farm level than trying to get on boards. I will tease that out for the witnesses. I know they are talking about going back 50 years but we will try to secure additional improvements in the operation, application and terms and conditions of the BDGP, but I do not want the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater. It is important that we retain the programme because there was much suffering to get it in place from day one. It is not right from the perspective of the ICCS, and where we see value to it, I am sure the committee will try to address it with relevant authorities, including the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who will come before us in a few weeks.
I thank the witnesses for coming in today and for the presentation. It is timely that we are having this meeting. We have had representations from the Irish Charolais Cattle Society before and I met its president at the National Ploughing Championships. It is an issue that is exercising farmers, beef farmers in particular, throughout the country so it is appropriate that we have this session and that we have the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, in afterwards as well to discuss and tease out the issues that are being raised.
There is no doubt that from a financial perspective the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, is a disappointment and a poor replacement for the one that went before it which was the suckler cow welfare scheme, which farmers found involved less red tape and was more financially rewarding. That is also shown by the take-up in the scheme which is behind in the projected participant numbers and by the fact that many farmers have not engaged in it because they feel that, financially, it is not worth their while.
Having said that, the objective of the scheme is to improve the genetic make-up of the beef herd and to improve profitability for beef farmers. That is its stated objective and to do it in a way that reduces the carbon footprint. Those in themselves are worthy objectives but the witnesses have raised issues in the way the star grading operates and the volatility around that. This needs to be explored further. It is important to deal with those issues which are of concern to farmers and the pedigree and beef organisations. What is coming through very clearly is the fact that communication between the witnesses, the Department and the ICBF has left a lot to be desired. When a scheme is being looked at and widespread involvement is sought, all the stakeholders need to be part of that and there should not be a cloud over the objectives or people's engagement in the scheme.
Has the Irish Charolais Cattle Society had much feedback and engagement with other pedigree beef societies and associations? Is that feedback similar to the society's experience? What level of engagement has the society had with farming organisations and their perspective on the scheme vis-à-visthe society's perspective?
I would be interested in getting further feedback from the mart point of view as well. Ms De Vere Hunt is the manager of Cashel Mart. What is her perspective on it and what has she seen in terms of buyers around the ring? What impact has the reduction in grades had and what is the feedback from buyers?
What is the understanding of the meat industry's perspective on it and the market to which we are selling this? What is the market saying in terms of what is being sought and how the type of cattle that are being produced are feeding the market? Deputy Cahill outlined the prices he was getting for Friesian cows and the premium that is available in the market. I am interested in the witnesses' perspective on that.
In terms of feedback on the price and profitability from the pedigree Charolais sector and the price for beef bulls, how have the witnesses seen the BDGP having an impact on the price and profitability of the pedigree sector itself? I take the point on cross-bred bulls being used and being part of this. I would be interested in hearing that fleshed out further. Often in breeding, pedigree herds are crucial and key flame carriers, so to speak, in the quality of our beef herds and genetics, but there is also the dynamic in breeding of cross-bred vigour, which is why different breeds are crossed. I mention the impact of the sire being cross-bred on the beef herd and what is being produced. I would be interested in getting the witnesses' perspective further on that.
While there is no doubt that the Charolais is an exceptionally fine animal which has contributed massively to our beef herd and continues to do so, it is also undoubtedly the case that the feedback from farmers and what we are seeing on this scheme is that it is leading to us tracing our steps backwards. Whereas we have seen the size of cattle grow over recent years and the quality of cattle improve massively, this is going in the opposite direction and is going against the trend, the teaching and the professional advice that would have been available and which Irish agriculture and beef agriculture would have been following. My understanding of the concept behind the beef data genomics programme is that it is to produce beef at a price per kilo which means that farmers get a higher profit. That may mean that cattle may not be as big but the idea is that from the maternal side, they are better milk producers, possibly smaller cows that eat less, and therefore the carbon footprint is less as a result. I know some of the witnesses are shaking their heads but I am putting this to them in terms of what is being said and that that is part of the concept behind the BDGP scheme. Ultimately, it is supposed to mean that whenever farmers are selling their animals, they make more profit. I am interested in the witnesses' feedback on that as a concept. Do they feel that is something which stands up or is it a regressive argument from a beef and farmer point of view?
Mr. Kevin Maguire:
I have one question. Under the corporate governance, is it right that we should have six members from one artificial insemination, AI, station and four members from the IFA sitting on the board? Along with that we had one representative representing 15 different breed societies, and even at that he had a conflict of interest on the board because his daughter works for the ICBF. The ICBF has to be asked if this corporate governance is right. What are its thoughts about this because it is totally flawed as far as I am concerned.
Mr. Alan Wood:
I refer to the Vice Chairman's question. We are competing with the dairy herd to a degree but at the same time we have worked well together over the years. The Vice Chairman made the point on the Friesian cows killed. I printed this off the other day and I will show it to the committee: two cull cows slaughtered in the Newford herd, which is a herd set up in Athenry in one of the driest farms of land in Ireland. This is second cross; it is progeny. These two cull cows were the first cross of Friesian cows. They were Angus cows bought off the Friesian herd. They were not even Friesian cows. This is printed yesterday from Teagasc. These are two cull cows out of 30 April, the average carcass weight of which was 240 kg and the average price for which was €757. I have the list of the grades in fact, just as the Vice Chairman brought up. To put people in the picture, we have been sold by the ICBF for four or five years that the progeny of the dairy herd is the way forward as there is a smaller cow. This is what they produce, these are the grades taken independently and I would like the Vice Chairman to see the grades of the cattle.
I was referring to the Vice Chairman's question . It is important because it is a Teagasc farm. That is the way we have been driven by the ICBF.
That is an example of cross-breeding. We can also show the progeny of the dairy herd, which is very satisfactory. I will print a copy of the example for other members of the committee so they can have a look at it.
Mr. Christy Comerford:
I would like to ask one question. We are talking about putting dairy blood into the suckler herd. If someone went to a good dairyman's yard today and asked him to introduce a Belgian Blue bull into this herd and milk his daughters in his milking parlour in two years' time, he would tell him or her to get out of his yard. That cannot be done. It is like putting oil into water. Years ago in Scotland they bred the cattle down in size. They call them Belt Buckle cattle. They bred them small to hang them on the ships going to South America after the war. They came along and put those bulls on dairy cows to produce progeny from the dairy herd. English people died at 42 and 43 years of age from eating saturated beef from those animals. The queen gave a grant to put suckler cows back up on those hills. She introduced continental cattle in 1963. The first importation was of Charolais cattle followed by all the other beef breeds, including Limousin and Simmental. The animals from those, crossed on suckler herds, were a niche market. They were paid properly for that beef because it was top class. They could produce an animal that was fattened 48 days faster. That was back in 1963. Here we are with a scheme in this country driving the beef industry back 50 years at least. I am a suckler farmer and when the scheme was introduced, most of my neighbours could not join it because the Minister could introduce new regulations relating to the scheme at any stage. How could somebody take up a scheme when there could be new regulations put into it when the person had already joined it? It would be like buying a pig in a bag. The committee is talking about bringing animals from the dairy herd. Good suckler cows came from dairy cows but at the moment there is so much Jersey and Holstein blood in these dairy cows, they would not be capable of calving a decent beef calf. We would see more cruelty in this country. A mouse cannot have a rat. It is as simple as that.
The focus of the meeting is on the questions members of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society have raised about the ICBF's role in the scheme of things. The questions that have been asked relate to Mr. McKiernan's presentation so perhaps he will address them.
Mr. Nevan McKiernan:
I will try to address the questions as best I can. I will start with the confrontation with the owners of dairy herds. We certainly do not want confrontation between us and the owners of dairy herds. There is room for both. Everyone knows that dairying is more profitable than suckling. That is a reality and a fact of life. There is not much we can do about it. The problem with the scheme is our suckler farmers are being forced to introduce females from the dairy herd into their farms, which they do not want but they have to because of the scheme. The scheme was not thought out and it was badly driven through despite the best efforts of breed societies and different organisations in the agricultural sector.
I was asked why the females coming from the dairy herd are not as good as those from the suckling herd. The reason is when one goes for milk, fertility and traits like that, one loses out on beef traits. It is the reality of cattle breeding. As Mr. Comerford said, one cannot breed beef cattle from the dairy herd the same as from a suckling herd. Why was the suckler herd ever introduced if that was the case?
I cannot answer the question regarding how the board of ICBF was formed. I was told it was formed based on the number of shares each organisation holds in ICBF. If that is the case, I have asked how many shares the IFA holds in ICBF. With regard to the change we would like to rectify that, we would like the board changed so that everyone is represented fairly. As a democratic society, we deserve that at least. Efforts have been made to meet the board of ICBF. The federation's representatives will agree that I made efforts on behalf of the ICCS. We contacted the IFA in November of 2017 because we had not had a beef industry meeting in over a year since the scheme was introduced and genomics was included in the valuations.
I was asked how an animal can drop on the index like the animal I referred to in my presentation. That animal cost a lot when she was bought. She is the daughter of a three-time all-Ireland champion owned by one of the most prolific figures in the country.
Deputy Penrose asked about the BDGP scheme. I do not know many suckler farmers in the country who would say, with their hands on their hearts, they are in favour of the scheme. I asked 15 mart managers whether the quality of cattle had improved or disimproved. They all said the same; I did not make it up. I did not make up the quality of cattle deteriorating in our factories over the past two years. The volatility of the indices is an issue. A farmer could buy dear cattle into one's herd thinking he has five-star animals and within two years the animals could have one star. How would the Deputy feel if he went out and paid €5,000 or €6,000 for those animals?
Mr. Nevan McKiernan:
There are different reasons figures go up and down. New bloodlines are introduced all the time. To diversify breeding, we need to bring in new bloodlines all the time. When new bloodlines come in, they move the bloodlines that are there. It is a fact and it is reality. That is the way the figures move up and down, and we cannot change that. There is nothing wrong with the indices but they should not be linked to a scheme. Figures are a guide and that is all they can ever be. Any country will say they are a good guide but that is all they are. A scheme cannot be implemented based on figures that change three times a year. For example, when the genomics scheme was first introduced in June 2016, a particular AI bull was cost €63 on the replacement index but is €126 today, which is double. Another example is a bull that was priced at €66 in June 2016 and is €103 today. Another was €236 back in June 2016 and is €147 today. The highest replacement index bull in the country has 12 carcass records on it, which is a French Salers bull. What is happening in the BDGP scheme and what suckler farmers have to put up with is madness.
The scheme is certainly not of benefit. The quality of cattle is disimproving. Farmers are being forced to keep bulls they do not want.
Deputy McConalogue asked a few questions, although he has left the meeting. He asked about feedback on beef bulls and the price of suckler heifers with five stars. A recent sale of five-star cattle was held by an organisation in Tullamore mart. Anyone who was at that will report that the quality of cattle and the prices received for them is an indication star ratings are not working. In our sales, men have to pay over the odds for inferior quality pedigree bulls with five stars. There could be an exceptional bull from a top class bloodline standing in front of farmers and they cannot buy him because he is not four star or five star, perhaps for a number of reasons. It might be as a result of a lack of information in the ICBF database on that bull because he came in from France or the UK. In the last run, we got the inclusion of UK data in the ICBF valuations, which is a major development and a positive step.
If a farmer keeps crossbred bulls and uses them in his suckler herd, he might as well let a goat in with his suckling cows. Farmers were once penalised for having such bulls in their herd ,yet years later we are promoting them. I do not know how far we have come. Maybe I have left something out and perhaps other members would like to address the issues.
Mr. Alan Wood:
I asked the CEO of the ICBF at a meeting in Elphin mart attended by 200 or 300 people how many calves are born or registered annually under the BDGP. There are approximately 24,000 herd owners in the programme. I failed to get an answer that night. I have been asking for the answer to that question for nearly a year. I have a roundabout figure of roughly 9,000 Limousin calves born annually under the BGDP to non-pedigree bulls. One can call them any kind of bull one wants, including a scrub. Based on that figure, 30,000 calves a year are being born to non-pedigree bulls divided among the 24,000 herd owners . If I was a French or English farmer looking at our data - we are supposed to be leading the field in genomics - it would show 30,000 calves are born annually under the programme. I have asked the question on numerous occasions. The ICBF is supposed to get back to me but it never does.
The Department did say that it was legislation that was there since the 1960s, but regardless, it should not be part of it. It was a badly thought out scheme and it should not be allowed. Imagine French farmers or farmers from elsewhere looking at our data.
Mr. Kevin Maguire:
When Euro-Star was first introduced, it was supposed to be a guide. Then some smartass came up with the idea that it would be tied up with a payment scheme, and when that happened it became compulsory to use Euro-Star. If one is in the scheme, one cannot be paid unless one uses Euro-Star. That is the big problem here. If Euro-Star was not tied into a payment scheme we could work, and we could find common ground somewhere. As Mr. Kiernan noted, we are looking at pedigree status 1 throughout this country. Our four-star and five-star bulls make big money but the quality is very poor. It will drive down the whole beef industry. Our beef is sold with customers coming from different parts of the country. Our cattle in this country are good continental cross beef which is either in the factories or the feed lots, that is where they are brought to. Is that the beef that these people buy? The next day black and whites are back in. Is this country facing another horse scandal? If we are selling our beef on the good continental cross animals it is time that there was honesty in this beef industry. If one registers a calf in Ireland, one records the sire of the calf. There is traceability of movements and so on but we never put down the dam. People go into restaurants and buy beef described as Angus beef, but it not, it is half Angus beef. We have to get honesty back into this country and the beef industry. We have a super quality beef that is recognised worldwide. No matter where one goes, Irish beef is recognised but we will run it into the ground unless something is done about this.
Many questions have been asked and the witnesses have made the points that they wanted to make. The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, will have a chance to answer them. The case that has been laid out here is quite stark. The witnesses have described the problems of breeding and the animals that are coming to mart at the beef data genomics programme.
It makes sense that we make the most of science, get the genetic data and then try to improve the quality of our beef herds. Everyone agrees on that principle. It is perplexing as the scheme is only in place a few years whereas the witnesses have been breeding for years, as have other breeding organisations. When one talks about science, one would think that there were be more commonality than difference of opinion so it is hard to understand how the witnesses express such objections to the scheme in place. I am not a scientist, and we have heard much scientific information here, however it is important that there is proper engagement between the other breeders and the ICBF and its input into the programme.
It sounds as though the breeders here had reservations from the outset when the scheme was established. How would the witnesses improve it and match what they are doing? The breeders have been going for excellence in the gene pool of Charolais to date so how would they translate what they have been doing prior to the scheme to make it more effective? The witnesses mentioned the French system and breeding elsewhere. How does it compare with those, where there might be more established data? Is the essence of the problem that we do not have enough data to advise people on the animals they should or should not acquire? There can be a guide, which is what the witnesses are suggesting, but we do not have the data because we have not been collecting it long enough.
I would hope that the discussion might see more light than heat, although the witnesses have very strong views about what has happened. We would expect that the board of ICBF would have proper engagement with the witnesses and the other breeding organisations and that they would be heard out.
The issue of governance, and that the scheme would function properly and bring about results, is a legitimate question. When we hear about the new CAP or of agriculture in Europe, issues of climate change and environmental change go hand in hand. There is no getting away from a genomics type of scheme or the promotion of using genomic data within breeding in order to make a herd more efficient so that we do not have more animals that we need and that we get the returns from the herd, which is the objective.
I am interested to hear about what is going at the marts from Ms De Vere Hunt, who is at the coal face.
We often go to Teagasc in many fields but particularly when we want to know about sound science. What input has Teagasc had into this scheme or the programme that is before us? Has it a role to input, I would not go so far as to say to adjudicate, into the sort of scheme that would have desirable outcomes?
As other members have noted, the witnesses' presentation was more questions than answers and it is difficult to question questions. It might be more beneficial if we could questions ICBF and return to the breeders.
For my own clarification, and perhaps playing devil's advocate to an extent, Deputy McConalogue raised something that was not referred to, namely whether the witnesses are here to represent the Irish Charolais Cattle Association or are representing the Purebred Breeders Association. If they are representing the entire breeds that they have mentioned that are not on the board of ICBF, what communication do they have with them and why is there only one breed represented here today? The witnesses have spoken about the star index dropping and about the poor gradings in the factories. I am not defending the scheme, but as designed it is to get the heifer calf at the earliest possible age and get the finished animal to the factory at the earliest possible age. I would respectfully say that neither of those two aims suits the Charolais breed. Is that where this is all coming from?
It is rare to hear a presentation at the Oireachtas that is so passionate. The witnesses have very passionate views about this issue which one has to admire. They made a comment in their opening address which was unfortunate and should be formally withdrawn regarding Johne's in the dairy herd. It is a very serious issue, and we should not say anything like that about the dairy herd. However, I acknowledge the witnesses' passion. They have a real issue which needs to be addressed about where the star ratings go, how they have been addressed and how they have fallen so dramatically. Many years ago there was a similar issue with cross breeds in the dairy industry and the Jersey where there was also great opposition. The question of where our beef industry is going, where the quality of stock is going and what is determined as quality of stock is something that must be addressed and looked at. They are important points. Questions such as what is classed as a first class bull, whether in terms of milk production, fertility or configuration, are those for which the breeders need real answers.
If the issue is configuration, that must be addressed. The breed is fantastic but when it comes to other issues, is that where the star rating is falling? This is what we need to ask of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF. We need to know why the star rating is falling.
We have seen huge variations in genomics. We have seen bulls fall dramatically in all breeds. They were literally on the list one year and not on it the next. This issue goes across the entire industry and affects both dairy and beef farmers. It is problematic for farmers to follow a genomics line, to have a bull rated one year but not even listed the next. How can we stand over that and push the industry forward? There is great concern throughout the dairy and beef sectors on that issue.
Reference was also made to the configuration of the board, about which I was not aware until I heard today's presentation. That is a unique and serious point that has to be addressed. It is not acceptable to have a conglomerate having such a degree of control over a board. I will gladly raise this issue when the representatives come before us later. We need to get clarity on who has control and ownership of the board. The fact that only one farming organisation is represented is another serious issue.
The witnesses before us certainly have passion, which I respect. We will do our best to get some answers to some very serious questions.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. The questions about the board will be answered when representatives of the ICBF come before us later. We need to make sure to keep most farming going, as best as we can. However, if a farmer in the west of Ireland buys the first heifer out of a dairy herd, he or she will have to breed again a second time to get back into the suckler side of things. That has been taught to farmers over generations. However, the problem is that we are trying to feed two masters. If we want to send cattle to Italy and if we want to send U grade cattle, it will not be five star because of the way the beef genomics scheme is set up. In fairness, in the milk sector, it has been a great success. The science has resulted in good cows milking well and no one is disputing that. We are dealing with a different set up now. The Italians and other overseas customers want U grade animals. However, it is not possible to get that with a narrow arsed animal. If one has a good Simmental, Charolais or even a Limousin cow and crosses it with a Charolais, one will get that type of animal. Our worry is that we are seeing an alarming amount of suckler cows going, for all different reasons. We had problems with weather and fodder and we have a problem with price. The latter is our biggest problem.
Ms De Vere Hunt is located in the middle of the country where there is both dairy and suckler cattle. The problem is that the cattle we are breeding out of the five stars - I have seen them at marts in Castlereagh, Elfin and Tuam - are not going to make what a good Charolais or a good U grade animal is going to make, whether we like it or not. The system is based on ease of calving but the weanlings are exported so we do not have the data on them. Even in Ireland, if a farmer sells a weanling to a good farmer who drives it on, that goes up as being better in the rating. However, if it goes to a farmer who has 40 acres, who throws a blast of them into it and does not bother getting meal going and lets them go over age, then they are going to reduce. It is not accurate data, in my opinion, and it is hard to compile accurate data.
If one takes the factory kills, which I watched last year, we are sending in more cattle to hit the same target weights that we hit before and there is a problem. Whether one likes it or not, if one has an orange Charolais that is below, there is €300 in the difference. It may have been harder calved, I do not know or the cow may not have as much milk. We are going to get statistics later on fertility in terms of cows having calves every year but to be blunt about it, one could nearly leave her without a calf every four years and one would end up with the same money. This is the dilemma we face.
As Deputy Cahill pointed out, at the moment in the factories one will get €3.90 or €4 for some strippers or cull cows because there is a shortage of cattle. However, if there is plenty of cattle around, the factories will pick and choose and then farmers will know what they will get for lower quality animals. We have to watch our live export trade because if we lose that, we are in trouble. The suckler herd is under enough pressure as it is but if we lose our live export trade and concentrate more on supplying the factories here, there will be no way to keep manners on those factories in terms of price. We are trying to balance two balls here. We are trying to make sure that cows will calve. One must try to make sure that one does not have a cow one is pulling the whole time. One must make sure that one has a certain amount of milk but one will be told then that the calf reached a particular target.
I have seen cows from a Charolais or Simmental background which milk just as well as any other cow. We must make sure we are producing U grade cattle, particularly in the suckler herd. It is fine to take stock from the dairy herd because they are specifically designed to produce milk. The quality of the animals may not be as good but they will be five star because they have the milk and they will calf an Angus, for example. One can feed them, they can go to a factory and they are sound and no one is saying otherwise. They are for a different line, however. One will bring them home and feed them milk or powder, drive them on with meal and after two years or 30 months, one will kill them. On the other hand, the suckler herd is aimed at a few different markets and the export market is the big one. If one is producing good export animals - U-grade calves - that are ready in August or September, one will get top dollar for them. One will make the best margin in that scenario, rather than taking €600 to €800 for a bit of a weanling that one might throw out on the ground, that would be sound as a bell and that would milk well but when it comes to the ring, the farmer will not get the money. The cow costs as much to feed as what one gets when one sells her. Profit margin is a problem from day 1 with the suckler herd too.
Ms Alison De Vere Hunt:
We have seen a huge decline in the quality of stock at the marts in recent years. One sees it year on year with calves. In terms of the suckler sales we have done, I have really noticed that a lot of buyers are buying sucklers to go into feed lots and to kill them a month later. These are cows that have another three or four years in them but people just cannot afford to keep them any more. Farmers are not being paid the premium that they should be getting for the quality of their stock.
We were the first mart in the country to implement the board, though a pilot scheme had been done and Kanturk and Thurles put star ratings on the board. I remember the first sale and the trend has been the same since. One animal had no stars but was beautiful and everyone asked about it. They did not want the ones with the stars and they were disappointed to learn the cow had none. She still topped the sale because we were only getting into the process. In sale after sale of sucklers, people have to buy the ones with three, four or five stars so that they meet the criteria but it is not working. We are going by the book and science is great but we need practicality.
Most farmers I know have been brought up, like myself, on a farm and they use their eyes to see. As I said to someone earlier, one wants to see something beautiful in person and not in a book. A farmer rang me about two months ago to complain that he had calves who did not make what he wanted and that he had made more last year. Last year they were out of a Friesian bull but this year they were from AI straws from an Angus bull. He could not understand and I said I would bet him his cow was a dairy cow. He said it was and I said that is the way it goes. He has the same stock as last year and it will not work.
There is a welfare issue because, in some cases, animals are getting a bit harder to handle. The old welfare suckler scheme was brilliant because calves were coming in weaned. If they were not weaned the seller was penalised but nothing is being looked at now. I could ask people in the mart if their animal had five stars and it could be the plainest animal in the place while a three-star or a no-star could be an absolute beauty, so it does not correlate for us. It is having an effect on the farmer's pocket and some are very disillusioned and upset at an animal being five-star last year but three-star this year. An animal with no Holstein now suddenly has Holstein and they cannot understand it. When they try to contact the ICBF they say nobody answers the phones or gets back to them.
We all want better genetics and a better quality stock but we need to go back to the drawing board. We need to go back to where the eye can see. Senator Mulherin suggested bringing Teagasc in but I would be very apprehensive about doing that. I am a graduate of the green cert myself but I am much happier with what I learned from growing up on a farm than from doing my green cert. I am very disappointed with the young farmers coming in at the moment. They are my own age but they see this as gospel, which is what they learn with Teagasc. We need to go back to something practical and this is something Teagasc does not need to be brought in on.
I agree, however, that the Department's welfare scheme should be brought back in as it is very important. Deputy Fitzmaurice mentioned the possibility of five-star animals going to Italy. That would be great but we are not going to have any left. The quality has become so poor and over 7,000 suckler animals left the system between 2010 and 2017. We need to start looking after our suckler farmer. It has been said that the west has not been affected and that is true, because the only other option there is forestry, and I do not want to appear flippant in saying that. I am from the heart of the Golden Vale, where dairy is big. Sucklers are big, albeit reducing, but we have other options. However, I have never seen a spring like it. I have seen dairy farmers in awful straits and we now have too many dairy cows. The abolition of the quota has put us on the floor and, having had a fodder crisis, it is time for us to tidy things up across the board - dairy, beef and tillage.
We cannot afford another year like this. I am also an auctioneer of property and much of the land we sell is not going back into crops, or even grass for stock. We are going to have fodder crisis after fodder crisis if we do not start giving a premium for our stock and bringing down our numbers. The quality is getting lower and the dangers are increasing. The stock coming into marts are milkier.
Mr. Noel McGoldrick:
We are here to raise concerns over the seriousness of the crisis in the suckler sector, as has been highlighted nationwide by the Irish Farmers' Journalin its "Save our Sucklers" campaign, a petition which has several hundred thousand names. It has not appeared overnight and our chairman, Mr. Kevin Maguire, raised concerns with the ICBF delegation, including Sean Coughlan, back in July or August 2016 at a meeting in the Tullamore Court Hotel.
In response to Senator Mulherin and Deputy Fitzmaurice, science plays a very important role in everyday life for all of us but figures have to be accurate because inaccuracy will hang us every day of the week. As Mr. McKiernan said, the highest-indexed bull on the books in the country at the moment has 12 carcass records to back it up. That does not inspire confidence in the figures by which we are being driven. The ICBF gave us a spreadsheet with 40 bulls on it. One had 636 progeny and had a reliability of 36%, while the other had seven and had a reliability of 39%. I repeatedly questioned how that could be the case and, eventually, Mr. Coughlan admitted that it had to be wrong. Science is vital but, if we are to use these measures as a tool, we need a yardstick of some description and it has to be accurate.
On the same day, we referred to the uptake of the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, by suckler farmers. We asked Mr. Coughlan why there had been such a poor uptake if the scheme was as good as it was dressed up to be. It could have been asked by 35 or 36 other individuals in the room at the time because for most farmers it would not be worth their while. Why did we put millions of euro into the generation of the scheme and into funding it, if it is not going to be worthwhile for the broad spectrum of suckler farmers in Ireland? There is no point in being useful for a quarter of farmers and it has to be reviewed in some way.
The BDGP is set up to try to increase the value of offspring from the dairy herd. We are not here today to have any type of confrontation with the dairy sector because beef and dairy have coexisted in Ireland for far longer than any of us in this room, and they will continue to. There will not be any less ground in Ireland unless we build everywhere. Our concerns are that the inclusion of first cross from the dairy sector is having a massively negative impact on the suckler sector. Tullamore farm sold its first crop of heifers in Tullamore mart yesterday fortnight.
At 14 and 15 months of age, the average weight was 330 kg with an average yield of €930 at 14 months. In that same sale, there were animals sold at 12 months of age for €1,300. That is reality. That is where we are going. We can only spend what we have in our pocket. To quote articles in The Irish Farmers' Journal, every €1 contributed to the farming industry is a €4 spend to the economy. There is no reason for us to let our suckler slip. When we leave today, I am sure the ICBF will bombard the committee with loads of wonderful tables, graphs and figures that will convince the committee we are all mad. Maybe that is the case but I do not think so. There are 15 emails from marts from the south east to the north west to back up the worries and concerns we have. The one thing I would ask the committee to remember is that those figures, graphs and tables are all self-generated. There is no audit of them. We do not have a yardstick to work off. The question needs to be asked as to how good the data is and how good the systems that are in place are. We definitely need something as a yardstick to work with but I believe there is a need, firstly, for serious reform in the board and in the way the indexes are compiled.
One very valid point that may or may not be made by Mr. Alan Wood later on is that there is no allowance for feed efficiency. Regardless of whether it is a Charolais or Charolais-Limousin cross, no animal could possibly do 1.6 kg, 1.7 kg or 1.8 kg per day. We have Holstein crosses that are doing 0.6 kg or 0.7 kg and possibly 0.8 kg. Our suckler sector is on a very slippery slope and it needs to be addressed.
Mr. Alan Wood:
Seeing as Mr. McGoldrick brought it up, I will elaborate on it. One of the things that started the big beef data genomics programme and the replacement index was a change a year after we went into the programme in 2016. I am not exactly sure. One of the significant changes was the famous figure - food intake - at 18%. An index was not known about previously so there was nothing about food intake in all the star ratings we got prior to that. This famous figure of food intake is slating the better cattle. Why is this? It is because scientists are believed to have proved that if a cow is bigger, she eats more so if a cow is 800 kg and eats 2% of her body weight, she will eat more. This is correct if we compare like with like. If one has a Limousin cow weighing 600 kg and one weighing 800 kg, it is comparing like with like so yes, the Limousin cow weighing 800 kg will eat more.
My argument is that we cannot do that in cross-breeding. We cannot compare an 800 kg Charolais cow to a 600 kg cross suckler dairy cow because the dairy cow is designed to milk. My argument is that food intake is a vital ingredient in the index but it must work alongside another thing called food efficiency. I will explain it briefly. They must work side by side. One cannot slap in a figure of food intake without having food efficiency in it. For example, a bull being fed heavy concentrates needs 10 kg of meal. He is capable of converting 2 kg of that to his body weight. He is efficient. His intake is not huge but it is a good intake and his food efficiency is excellent. If one then compares another animal that might be coming off a dairy herd or might be a lesser bred animal, he is capable of eating 8 kg of meal. Great, he eats 2 kg less per day but he is capable of putting on 1.2 kg per day. Which is the best animal on the farm? One needs to work side by side. This is one of the significant problems with the ICBF. It is its way or no way. Unfortunately, common sense has gone.
Another point was raised about our own breed. Perhaps Mr. McKiernan or Mr. Maguire will take it up. Regarding our own breed, I came in here with an open mind. I have a very small pedigree herd - eight or ten cows. Most of my income comes from the commercial line. We use a Charolais bull. It is not about a breed. It is about a system that is not working. It is not about me or Charolais cattle. The system is not working and it is time to people to realise it, do something about it and drive the industry forward in the direction it should be going in a profitable way if the right representatives were there on the board and were there to make the decisions.
Mr. Christy Comerford:
Johne's disease was mentioned so I must say a bit about it. From figures produced by Animal Health Ireland, we can see that the figures are rising in the dairy herd more than they are in the beef herd. The reason for this is because a dairy farmer is testing for Johne's disease. If his cows test positive for the disease, the milk from those cows is put into a barrel at the end of the milking parlour in the morning and is fed to his beef-type calves. The milk from his cows that test negative is fed to his replacement heifers to weed out Johne's disease within his herd. The Government has put a scheme in place that forces suckler farmers to buy replacement calves from dairy men - calves that have been fed with milk from cows with Johne's disease. Are we going to let-----
The witnesses came in here to make their points about the system that is in operation regarding how animals are classified. The pilot scheme for Johne's disease has very little to do with the points they need to make about the Charolais breed and the way the system is operating. That is my view. There is no substantiation for what Mr. Comerford is saying. I am a dairy and beef farmer. There is a pilot scheme for Johne's disease in the dairy herd. The strong advice to everyone in that scheme is that only milk from animals that are negative for Johne's disease should be fed to calves, not that calves should be segregated. I respectfully ask witnesses to refrain from statements that cannot be substantiated and I do not think that statement can be substantiated. Have the witnesses any other points they wish to make?
Mr. Kevin Maguire:
Senator Paul Daly asked who we were representing here today. We are representing the Irish Charolais Cattle Society first and foremost but we are also representing our customers. The suckler farmer in Ireland has been a very good customer of the Charolais breed and they are the ones for whom we are standing up today. The Charolais breeders from all over this country travel the world looking for top-class genetics and brought them to this country. We only have to look back to the foot and mouth disease outbreak in England a number of years ago. We saw oldish men who bred serious bloodlines into their herds that were all killed. That is what is happening in this country at the moment. Serious bloodlines are being washed out of this country and nothing is being done about it. That is why we are here today. We are here today to represent our pedigree breeders and we are very passionate about it. As some people said here, we are more than passionate. We like our breed and we want it to go forward. That is all I have to say on the matter.
Mr. Nevan McKiernan:
Senator Mulherin asked how we could improve. Everyone gives out about the scheme but very few people come up with proposals to try to improve the situation. I agree fully with that. As has been said previously, the animal welfare scheme was an excellent scheme that worked for suckler farmers. It took into account the concerns of different organisations that were discussing animal welfare and beef production. The farmers were happy and the scheme rewarded them for it. In respect of introducing a grant for putting weighing scales on farms and making farmers weigh a percentage of their cattle on the farm every year, there is one way we will drive the milk figure, which is the most important figure in a suckler herd but is being totally disregarded. We have no back up on our milk figures because we have no weaning weights going into the system. I think the ICBF would agree with that. We have few weaning weights so how can we drive our milk figures and indexes? It makes up a massive part of the replacement index yet we have no figures going in on that.
Less than 30% of the pedigree herds record any weaning weights on them at all. Genotype are a certain percentage, genomics is a way forward and has to be used, but they are not linked and indexed to a scheme. The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF does a lot of good work recording data calving intervals. We need to collect all of that data and use the index as a guide.
If the BDGP maternal scheme is working, I would like the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF to be asked about the improvement in the calving interval and how many days it has improved by in the past two to three years since the scheme was introduced. Fertility is a massive part of the replacement index.
I thank the delegation from the Irish Charolais Cattle Society. The witnesses made an excellent presentation on behalf of the society. It was an argumentative presentation but the delegates made their points very strongly. We have been listening carefully to the points that have been made.
The next presentation is from the ICBF. The ICCS representatives have raised a great many questions and have pointed out the serious inadequacies from their point of view in the system. The committee members are taking the views expressed in the presentation very seriously. Some of us did not agree with the points made, but that is the basis of democracy. We will now listen to ICBF and I am sure we will try to get some solution that will drive the beef industry forward as we all want.
I welcome the representatives from the ICBF, Mr. Michael Doran, chairman, Mr. Sean Coughlan, chief executive and Dr. Andrew Cromie, technical director. The witnesses were in the Visitors Gallery during the presentation from the ICCS. Many questions were raised by the society and, therefore, we will have a good exchange of views.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I invite Mr. Coughlan to make his opening statement on behalf of the ICBF.
Mr. Sean Coughlan:
I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for the invitation to appear. I welcome the opportunity to provide some information to the committee on the ICBF and our role in the agriculture industry.
I will take this opportunity to provide the committee with information on the functions of ICBF. The ICBF was established in 1998, as a non-profit,"'industry good", non-State body following many years of discussion on how the Irish cattle breeding industry might be better organised to remove duplication and increase the rate of genetic gain in our cattle. It is a unique organisation with its shareholders combining the farm organisations, the milk recording organisation, AI organisations along with the dairy and beef associations. Thus it is owned one way or another by farmers. It provides services directly and indirectly to all farmers in Ireland. It is a genuine example of the potential of a co-operative type infrastructure when operated to its full capability.
ICBF created a database to provide the information needed for effective cattle breeding decisions at all levels in the industry. The most difficult aspect of any database is establishing timely flows of clean, accurate and comprehensive data. One of the key features of the ICBF database infrastructure is the removal of duplication and data collection. For example in 1998, a dairy farm involved the milk recording and herd book registrations would have to communicate on five different occasions regarding a single calving event. By 2002, with the introduction of ICBF animal events, only one notification of that event was required to satisfy all cattle breeding requirements. This has saved costs, increased data accuracy, increased farmer participation and made cattle breeding information more relevant and valuable to all Irish farmers.
ICBF has a core annual budget in the region of €6 million. In broad terms, the federation's income comes in the form of a tag contribution from farmers, a departmental operating grant to cover activities that it took over from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, service income and national development plan capital grants. The federation employs 71 people and is based in rural west Cork. It also contracts a further 30 people in the provision of weight recording and linear score services throughout rural Ireland.
ICBF generates genetic evaluations, that is breeding values, for animals based on the ancestry and performance data available nationally and internationally. It is licensed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to generate national genetic evaluations. Genetic evaluations can identify breeding lines that give more output, for example, more meat for the same level of the inputs, and feed. The outcome of the process is a breeding index for the animals expressed in euros which farmers can use to make a breeding decision.
All 75,000 breeding herds nationally benefit from these evaluations.
To facilitate the generation of genetic evaluations, the ICBF collects animal performance data from a wide variety of sources including: calf registration and animal movement data, in conjunction with the systems of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; artificial insemination data; milk recording data; slaughter data; mart data; DNA genomic data; health data; and on-farm performance data, which is becoming increasingly important as the focus switches to cost of production profit traits.
The ICBF plays a central role in beef and dairy breeding schemes. These breeding schemes identify the sires that will deliver maximum genetic gain to the commercial herds, and ensure that the next generation of livestock is more profitable than the previous generation.
The ICBF also engages with cattle breeders across the country, directly and indirectly, delivering breeding information so that farmers can make profitable decisions at the individual farm level. This happens in a number of ways. Bull proofs are made available to the breeding organisations. The publicly available bull search has over 3 million individual searches per year. HerdPlus, the ICBF's breeding information service, provides farmers with a mixture of paper and web-based tools for making informed breeding decisions. There is also engagement with stakeholders to increase awareness of the value of using breeding information to increase profitability at farm level.
The ICBF generates and distributes breeding information, which farmers can use to make profitable breeding decisions. It communicates this information using a variety of different technologies. One of the key challenges for the ICBF is to get the wider farming population to engage with that breeding information and realise that it has a key role to play in securing the long-term sustainability of farming in Ireland. The beef data and genomics programme is playing a key positive role in this regard, with a positive trend in replacement index now being seen for the first time. This is key for the sustainability of the national suckler herd. The calving interval has reduced from 407 days in 2014 to 393 days in beef data and genomics programme herds. We have seen similar performance improvements in calves per cow per year, which have gone from 0.8 to 0.87 in beef data and genomics programme herds.
The ICBF's ability to operate efficiently and effectively depends on its ability to utilise technology to its maximum in the capture of data, the calculation of breeding values through genetic evaluations and the dissemination of the resultant information out to commercial farmers for use in their day to day breeding decisions.
The ICBF is an organisation that caters for the needs of all breeders in Ireland, small and large. Genetic improvement is now playing a key role in helping to sustain the smaller, less profitable beef farms in the north and west of the country. These farms now have access to independent data from the ICBF when buying breeding stock, helping to identify animals which will improve profitability.
The ICBF is helping to lead the smart economy in agriculture, and it is delivering real economic benefits at the level of family farms, of all sizes, across the country. Ireland is operating the largest beef genomics project in the world. The result of genetic progress in the industry means 2018-born beef animals are €20 million more profitable than those born before the genomics technology was introduced. As a country, we cannot afford to ignore the advances in technology that can deliver increase gains at farm level. The nature of genetic gain is that it is cumulative and permanent, thus the industry will have that profitability gain annually on an ongoing basis, and this will continue grow.
The ICBF, along with the breeding industry stakeholders, has played a key role in delivering over €600 million of genetic gain to the Irish agri-industry since 2002 across dairy and beef. The work that the ICBF does is also playing a key role in helping to deliver the targets in the Foodwise 2025 programme. The ICBF, along with the wider industry, has a key role in securing the ongoing viability of family farms in rural Ireland.
I welcome the presentation and the presence of the delegation here this evening. They were here for the previous presentation. They will find I will not be any different to anyone else here in that my questions to them will be more related to the earlier presentation than that of Mr. Coughlan. I would like to hear answered some of the questions that were raised by the previous delegation and an explanation as to how the star rating in the example given could have changed so dramatically over a three-year period.
The point was made that the ICBF is taking into consideration food performance as opposed to just food intake or a combination of both. Why has the crossbred bull situation arisen? What was the thinking behind it? Every scheme and situation should be afforded a teething period. Now that the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and the scheme are up and running and established does Mr. Coughlan think the star rating should be money related, and that it would be a dynamic of the scheme that farmers have to meet a percentage of a star rating? As was explained during the previous presentation, this is resulting in farmers going out and buying dairy bred heifers to keep their star ratings up.
We heard the questions asked by the previous delegation but they must be asked of the ICBF by us. While I am not ignoring Mr. Coughlan's presentation, and many of the facts in there are positive, but mainly the questions he will be asked will be to answer the accusations or questions raised in the previous presentation, and I would like to hear answers to them.
A side issue that is raised with me a lot, and has happened to me personally, is why testing tags or buttons cannot come out when the cattle are in the sheds. Does the ICBF have a satellite looking down at farmers letting out cattle? The cattle are in the sheds for five or six months, and in the case of this year seven or eight months, and the farmers get the buttons the week after they leave them out.
I thank the ICBF for its statement, and it has furnished us with a huge volume of information. The witnesses heard the earlier presentation from the Irish Charolais Cattle Society, ICCS. It is like the seventh secret of Fatima trying to get information out of the ICBF. It has furnished us with a lot of information and all of the key metrics on the impact of the beef data genomics programme and productivity. The ICCS was looking for some information and, fortuitously, it got it today or yesterday, as it was about to arrive here, because the ICBF knew bloody well we were going to ask that question. The ICCS was looking for an explanation as to how genomics were included in these indices. Surely to God this is something the ICBF should have had at its fingertips. It should not be a begging job. It should be furnished. Surely that is what the ICBF is there for.
I am confused. I have a brother who is a suckler farmer but I am totally confused by the Euro-Star indices, although I am supposed to have studied this back in the 1970s. I am very strongly committed, more than the ICCS, to the beef data and genomics programme. I have always thought it is an excellent scheme but, again, it was loaded down with bureaucracy and, typical of anything brought in by bureaucrats, they know how to collapse a scheme before it gets off the ground by tying it up at so many regulations.
With regard to genome typing and the Euro-Star indices, changing them three times a year has a significant impact because things can collapse. People pay a lot of money and then they find the genome type or the replacement index changes. We have to have some respect for the input and cost involved. The ICCS mentioned a case where the sire was brought down and is safely ensconced out in Gigginstown, but be that as it may, it is down approximately €130 over three years on the replacement index. We want a full explanation on that.
The ICCS made a good point in asking why are the indices linked to the scheme. Pedigree breeders use very reliable bulls but why are they linked to them in this way? I read Mr. Coughlan's presentation and there is a background to it. He said the direct opposite to the ICCS. The ICCS stated there is a decline in the quality of beef cattle and Mr. Coughlan said the opposite, that beef cattle have improved. I come from a beef area and good beef cattle cannot be produced on the basis of a milking cow breed. It just cannot be done, no matter what anyone says. If people want to get to the top they just cannot do it.
It cannot be done in Ireland in any case because the dairy cow will have an input. As Deputy Fitzmaurice stated, there are two separate strands, one for milk and one for beef. To do the right job in beef, a background in beef genetic input is needed. I am totally confused about the way that is being linked to the scheme and I want an explanation for that.
The Irish Charolais Cattle Society was clear that the beef data genomics programme is narrowing the gene pool, which has resulted in decline in the quality of the pedigree herds. Suckler farmers are dependent on the dairy herd for replacement females to meet requirements. The ICCS argues there will be increased numbers of olfactory marker proteins, OMPs, which is the direct opposite of where we wanted to go. Some 20 years ago, I spoke about our inability to penetrate any of the high quality markets. We were only doing one in four of our animals and we wanted to turn that figure on its head and achieve at least three out of four or more. That is a big question where the RNUs were falling away and the OMPs were in the ascendancy.
Senator Paul Daly raised the issue of cross-bred bulls qualifying as stock bulls within the BDGP. I am talking about cross-breds after the initial breeding and there is an issue of genetic vigour which some of my colleagues mentioned as a result of cross-breeding. What are the statistics on that? A host of factors have been listed that I thought were important but these were not given to our friends. If they had been given this material, it would answer some of the questions that have been raised about docility.
Food conversion efficiency and food intake are two different things. Could that be linked up with the question that was raised by one of the witnesses who made a good point on that?
It is not for us to dictate to the witnesses what to do but I will raise the matter of corporate governance, an issue that has been very much in the news of late in connection with various organisations that appear before committees of this House. The board looks lopsided. I say that with respect because I am not familiar with it and do not purport to be familiar with it. Pedigree cattle breeders, who make a significant contribution to upgrading the national herd, have only one representative among the 15 or 16 different beef breeding societies. This appears to be disproportionately low, if I am to use the kindest language I can. I would like to know, as the cattle breeders would, how the directors of the board are elected. Is it on the basis of the shares that each organisation has? Is it correct that the board make-up and constitution have not changed since the organisation came into being back in 1998? If they have changed, why do Progressive Genetics, Munster AI and the National Cattle Breeding Centre, NCBC, have six members on the board? Why is the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, an important organisation that I strongly and unashamedly support and that has a big input in the farming industry, not on it? It represents people that I represent in the farming industry and I do not see any representation for it. Surely to God, it should be fitted in and pedigree breeders should have at least one more member representing them on the board. Is the number of representatives an organisation has on the board related to its shareholding? I remember the time the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine did not recognise the ICSA. I sat here as a lone wolf shouting on its behalf and some of its sister or big brother organisations-----
-----did not want it there either. I thought the Vice Chairman would remember that. I remain as steadfast in support of the ICSA today as I was then. I want to know if it is appropriate that only one person represents 15 different breed societies when one AI company has six directors on the board. That is a little lopsided from any perspective.
I support the idea of having a federation of cattle breeders. I thought it was a good idea when the ICBF was established in the late 1990s and I will change that view for anyone. I am not like that - I do not bend with the wind - but those are relevant questions.
Deputy Cahill, a former president of a farming organisation who represented the interests of farmers fiercely at the time, stated that notwithstanding our different viewpoints, it is important that we know we are all pulling the rope in one direction because there are enough people pulling the rope in the other direction in other countries and markets. The committee is not trying to get a one up on anybody but trying to ensure that we achieve what is best for the industry of which we are proud. This is a challenging time for the sector in all respects.
I am not advising the witnesses but I suggest the executive board meet the various beef breeding societies and reach an accommodation on how progress can be made and deal with the various issues. The committee can then make an input into the beef genomics data scheme which has much to offer provided it is operated with a good degree of practical input as opposed to theoretical input.
I thank the representatives of the ICBF for their informative presentation. A previous presentation to the committee raised many questions about the beef data genomics scheme and how the cattle breeds are affected by the scheme and treated under it. To give an analogy, it is like cross-breeding Holsteins, the major milk breed, with the Jersey breed. While the enhanced vegetation index, EVI, would increase significantly, would we have the animal we are seeking at the end of the process? We had that debate in the dairy industry and there are extreme views on both sides. While we have brought Jersey cattle into the dairy industry, has the breed caught on to the extent we would have anticipated based on the projected gains? In other words, if farmers had made decisions based on the figures, they would all have cross-bred Holstein with Jersey cattle. Instead, they stepped back from doing so. If anything, there has been a slight decline in cross-breeding because farmers wanted a calf or a cull cow; they wanted to have a solid animal. Is the issue with the Irish Charolais Cattle Society that if the breed being promoted were to achieve a five-star rating, it would erode to some degree the classic Charolais animal and it would not have an opportunity to achieve the five-star rating because it would not have the same genetic potential in terms of fertility, milk production and whatever else is required to achieve a higher star rating? We have gone through that debate on the dairy side and many farmers stepped back. We expected the New Zealand Jersey cross to become the normal dairy cow in Ireland but that has not occurred because farmers stepped back. Will the exact same scenario arise with the Charolais breed? Do the Charolais breeders have to make a decision either to cross-breed Charolais cattle to achieve a higher star rating or step out of the scheme?
There is a real dilemma associated with how the scheme fits in with the data the delegates are coming up with and how it is coming out the other end. It is a classic dilemma that we faced in the dairy industry perhaps ten years ago. Where do the witnesses believe the Charolais breed will go if the stars are followed down? Will there be a five-star Charolais with the confirmation we have at the moment? Will the normal Charolais herd have that confirmation? That is probably one of the big dilemmas for me.
With regard to the star rating of bulls dropping, and the associated genomics programme, we have seen very wide variations in bulls across major breeds over recent years. There were bulls very high up the index one year and not even on it the next year. Are the delegates happy with the genomics system? We are told it is the ultimate way to increase the genetic output and potential of our herd, but we have been let down in many ways by certain bulls, be they for the dairy sector or beef sector. They were very high up the list and were not even on it on the next occasion. It is bizarre.
In many discussion groups, farmers are talking about going back to proven dams, stepping away from the scheme and asking whether they are taking a risk or gambling too much. They are asking whether they should go back to the proven dam scenario. What is the witnesses' view on genomics and the proven dam scenario? Do they still promote opting for the higher-rated bulls that are not proven, or do they believe we should be sticking to a proven bull because of the serious questions being asked?
Regarding the directors on the board and the make-up of the board, the witnesses might elaborate. Who has the shareholding and how does the election happen? It is something I am not aware of and on which I just need information.
I thank the witnesses for the presentation. They will have heard what the members of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society had to say. I have never heard anybody say suckler farmers are delighted with the beef data genomics programme. In fact, the opposite is the case. It is not just the Irish Charolais Cattle Society that is saying this. There is a general feeling of dissatisfaction. Irish suckler cow farmers are under other pressures but there are enough complaints about the programme to warrant investigation.
The delegates have given their presentation and ancillary information. The Irish Charolais Cattle Society has given its information. It is hard to see any commonality other than that both organisations agree that, through breeding, we can produce better animals, have better productivity and be more environmentally friendly. There seems to be no commonality because what the delegates have presented does not seem to acknowledge any of the serious issues raised to varying degrees.
Rather than having us operate in parallel universes here, does the delegation accept that those concerned have raised serious issues? The serious issues were flagged at an earlier stage. Mr. Coughlan reminded me about the information roadshow on the scheme in Claremorris. The then Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and Mr. Coughlan were present. When people were expressing concerns, we were told there would be a review in about two years. Many people were saying they did not know whether the scheme would work. I am not talking about the ongoing review of whatever data we have been given but an actual review in which other parties, such as the Irish Charolais Cattle Society, other stakeholders and perhaps Teagasc, would have an input. I refer to some more discussion and how the programme is operating, its desirability and the outcomes. It is a question of establishing whether it is delivering what was promised and whether it is a success, not just because the witnesses are saying it but because a more independent review has determined it. The men and women coming in here are serious about their business. There are other farmers affected also. This is their bread and butter. It is more like a vocation. Farming involves blood, sweat and tears so farmers do not want to feel like they are wasting their time.
It has been suggested, on the basis of the data and genetic information available, that there should be just a guide. I am very taken by the evidence given by the Irish Charolais Cattle Society to the effect that the marts are saying the quality of the animal is down. The delegates are including data in their scientific computations and telling us about great star ratings, yet the people at the mart and at the coalface breeding animals are telling us the quality of the animal is declining. This can be seen in suckler calves going into the mart. I am trying to understand this. Considering that all the witnesses have the same objective, is it the case that they just do not have enough data to feed into the programme or system or to employ in their methodology at this juncture? With regard to comparing us with other countries, I understand France is a leader. Data and information compiled in that country mean the outcome of certain breeding and interbreeding practices can be more readily predicted. The delegates here just do not have that information. That is what it sounds like to me. It sounds like they are not established enough to be making what they propose as mandatory or to say it is gospel. They do not have enough science to begin with to back it up.
I am wondering about the cross-bred bulls. What people are saying here in this regard makes sense. If we are trying to improve beef, it must be realised that the purpose of a beef animal and the purpose of a dairy animal are different. To what extent are cross-bred bulls used in places such as France to enhance the quality of the beef herd? In what other countries is there a working example of what the delegates propose?
The frustration of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society over communication is very clear. We must take cognisance of the concerns it has raised in addition to the lack of information. The society's questions have to be answered by the delegates. I do not believe they can answer them all here today but I believe communication is not just a one-off process but an ongoing one. I would like to understand the delegates' view on their responsibility to answer questions, hear what the society has to say and allow some of its suggestions to feed into the process. I acknowledge the scheme is in place but it sounds like there needs to be some sort of root-and-branch examination of it. It does not sound like those with concerns are being listened to.
The point has been well made by other members that there seems to be an imbalance with regard to the board of directors. That imbalance, in a very obvious way, would mean some voices are heard more than others. Organisations with many representatives will be heard more. I would like to believe that breeding should be at the heart of the beef data genomics programme, and the people who have a long, established history of successful breeding should be at the heart of it. They do not seem to be, based on the delegates' numbers alone.
I thank the delegates for their presentation. No more than any other member here, I believe the board set-up is the first thing that needs to be addressed. I have considered the delegates' presentation. Am I correct in reading that the rate of calves dying at birth has risen from the previous figure to 1.3%? Am I correct in saying there are more calves dead at birth?
The delegates said they have taken 600,000 samples. In 2011 or 2012, we had 1.1 million suckler cows. The number is decreasing rapidly. I am glad to see that the delegates' figures confirm what I said last Christmas.
Would it be fair to say 470,000 calves are projected this year for the beef herd?
What is coming down the line looks dark. The reason for that is farmers are not making money out of it. While I notice with regard to docility that they are 4% quieter, the number of farmers killed by cows in recent years has gone up, whatever about the docility coming down.
We are talking about an increase of ten or 11 days for the calf. I have spoken to farmers about the reasons. I know farmers who let cows run. They used always to calve in March but they let them run into the following July for the simple reason that they might have sheep lambing in the spring. There are a host of different reasons.
On the issue of calves that are exported out of the country, while it is known when they are born, if somebody sells to one of the shippers without going through a mart, is there any trace of those calves? What percentage of the beef herd do the witnesses have accurate statistics on from the day they are born to the day they are slaughtered? I note that the witnesses have acknowledged that the carcass weight is coming down. They said that is because they are younger cattle. If an animal has the frame, its weight will be the same whether it is killed a month earlier or a month later. It is as simple as that. Nobody should cod themselves about it if the animal is finished and it has the shape. I note the R grades on the quality of cattle being killed. The weight is coming down. We have to remember that it was 2014 or 2015 when we started this new system. It is only last year and now that we are getting the first of them that were killed because most of them are between 24 and 30 months. We are only getting the first hit at it now. This slide in carcass weights will continue as we keep going down this road. The witnesses need to work with all the different groups involved.
On the dairy animal, everyone here knows the farmer's nature. If I have a cow that has no milk, I will get rid of her because she will not rear the calf. If I have a cow that is producing a bad calf, I will get rid of her. A farmer is not a jackass who will keep something to look at it all of its life. He will get rid of it. He will pick the cow that has a fairly good udder that will finish a calf quite well but that will, above all, produce a calf that will pull the scales down. However, I have seen a problem this year. Take a look at the dairy herd. The Angus calf this year is not worth as much. An Angus calf is a good calf and grows into a good cow. I am not criticising them. However, I watch the marts around the country. The reason is that the person who bought the calf continued it on so it is not pulling scales down and not leaving the money. That is a problem.
We must have balance. Genomics is needed. There is great success in milk, as I said earlier. Cows are milking well. We must balance, however, between what will work in the factory and what we need to get on the boat to other countries. We have lost some countries at present such as Italy and Belgium. We have lost a lot of that as a country. We must produce what I would call the shapely animal from the suckler herd and we can also concentrate on the other animal that will work 100% in the factory. Nobody is saying it will not work in the factory. I have looked at the figures for the calves from the five-star cows. I would like to drill down into those figures. It was approximately 11,000 with €1,098 for one and €1,101 for the other. What are we looking at? I would like to have that explained. I will be straight about it. A lesser quality cow might have more milk but milk will not put shape on an animal. It either has the frame or it does not have it.
If one listens to the mart managers, we have a problem with safety as well. We must ensure that we are weaning calves in the way it was done and getting them on meal before they go into a mart so they are not crying and bawling in the mart and so they do not get pneumonia when the next person gets them. We need to give incentives for the suckler herd, to give it a premium and protect the herd. To be honest, the witnesses will only be dealing with dairy shortly. As was pointed out earlier, the farmer might have a choice on good land in Tipperary or the south of the country. There is some good land in the west - I am not saying it is all bad - but many people have sheep on marginal land and suckler cows, but we are vastly running out of the suckler cows. I am watching it day in, day out. The main road from Mayo to Kepak is at the front of my house and the number of cows being brought on that road is frightening. It was denied six months ago when I said it. I was ballyragged about it, but what I said has come to pass. If one is listening to farmers, that message is clear. We have to start listening to them.
Yes, I believe in genomics. I am not saying we are against trying things out, but we do not have the data and we never will have them. Let us say I buy an animal from one of the witnesses. It is a good calf and the witness pampered him all the way. I put him into a field and leave him to wander around. He was on meal but I have left him on no meal. It will be a totally different ballgame from the situation where a person puts him into a feedlot and feeds the living daylights out of him. It has now been proved, and the witnesses can contradict me if I am wrong, that producing some of these cattle at 16 months does not pay. The research has been done and it proves that. It does not pay for the farmer. Ultimately, what we and the witnesses must do is get a profitable set-up for farmers. That means not dazzling us with brilliant figures but living in the real world.
I have travelled to many marts and I worked in a mart as a youngster. If anyone has the U shape and the Charolais coloured cattle in a ring, I defy anybody to tell me that they will not make €300 more than any other cattle.
Before I go back to the panel I wish to offer my tuppence worth. I will focus on two of the slides. We listened to the previous delegation, and while there are issues with board representation and so forth, the major contentious issue is the Euro-Star replacement index. The relative weightings there are maternal milk at 18%, fertility at 23%, docility at 4% and calving at 16%. I added them up and those four traits amount to 79% of the index. The bottom line states: "The ideal Irish beef cow; a weaned calf every year of good weight and quality". In my view, however, that 79% means the offspring coming from the dairy herd can score more heavily than the offspring from the beef herd. I go back to the €1,000+ weanlings that Deputy Fitzmaurice mentioned. There is a total of 11,180 weanlings from the dam stars. There are 1,449 from one-star dams and their average price is €2.76 per kilogram whereas for the five-star dams it is €2.67 per kilogram.
It means that when they are going through the mart, those from one-star dams are making more per kilo than those from five-star dams. That is a serious contradiction in terms and comes back to the point that was being made earlier by the previous delegation, that the index does not reflect what we need to produce from the suckler herd, which is U grade animals. The dams that qualify for the five-star rating are not producing the weanlings that make the most per kilo in the mart.
Ms Hunt referred to the quality of the animals coming through and a serious degradation in it. While I know there were other issues raised by the delegation today, the major issue is the replacement index and the way that is compiled, where the delegation feels that the continental animal is being discriminated against. That graph of weanlings that made more than €1,000 raises questions. It bears out many points that were made earlier. Some can say that the carcass weights are higher for the five-star dams. That comes back to the maternal milk. In 12 months, when they are hanging up on the line, what will be the weights and grades at that stage? Maybe it is impossible to do it but if the witnesses can get an E grade animal, that is where they want to go. Surely we have to try to reflect the end product, what grade it is, what carcass weight it achieves and what age it can be killed at in the replacement index. Other points were made, but for me, that is the hub of the argument where there is a clash between the breed societies and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF.
Mr. Sean Coughlan:
I have a couple of points and then we will get into it. We will bounce the slides around a little, as it were. We were pre-empting that we might need some facts to discuss some of the questions being raised. People asked about the reality on the ground. All of this information is based on reality. It comes from farms, marts and factories. There is not a magic ball of information that we are making up in Bandon. All of it comes either from farms, marts or factories. I ask Mr. Doran to cover the governance issues.
Mr. Michael Doran:
The beef data and genomics programme is a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine scheme that was brought in in the last Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reform to help to target money at the suckler sector, which was identified as needing that support at the time. That was the background to the scheme. There was a big focus on terminal traits for a long time and we made massive genetic gain with carcass weights and confirmation. At the same time, we reduced the impact on the maternal side, where the calves per cow per year were slipping, milk was slipping and such. That forced people to source replacements from within the dairy sector to try to balance some of those things that were happening. That is the background to the scheme and trying to address some of those balances.
On the corporate governance issue and the board, the board is made up of three representatives from the artificial insemination, AI, sector, and they represent both beef and dairy AI. There are three representatives from the milk recording agencies. We have six farm organisation representatives on the board, four from the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and two from the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA. We have three herdbook representatives. They are represented by two from the Irish Holstein Friesian Association, IHFA, and one pedigree cattle breeding representative, who happens to be a Charolais breeder, and one person from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Each of those people has a four-year term on the board and is up for reappointment at that stage. Deputy Penrose made the point earlier about farming politics, boards and such. It is not in ICBF's remit to get involved in who those organisations submit to represent them at board level. My background was being an IFA representative on the board, but each of those sectors appoints and elects its own representatives to the board from that background. That is the background.
Corporate governance was also mentioned. Last year, we initiated a full independent corporate governance review of the board. We brought in a corporate governance specialist from the Institute of Public Administration to do that with us, which was very good for the organisation and the board. It has been successful from the point of view of how the board works and getting more from it. We take corporate governance seriously. We take all those issues that come with it and we are meeting any requirements that we have to meet. It is up to individuals to make nominations and representations to the board about appointments that come to it. Mr. Sean Coughlan will deal with other issues.
Mr. Sean Coughlan:
I would like to deal with the communication issue and to set the record straight on a couple of things. Since the scheme was launched, I have met the Irish Charolais Cattle Society on two occasions. I went to a meeting in Tullamore and also met the society in its offices in the Irish Farm Centre. We operate a gene Ireland programme with all of the pedigree breed societies. There are approximately ten different groups that meet, on average, about three times a year. That is about 30 meetings a year across those groups to communicate with the breed societies. We met the breed societies last December and on 2 February, when we agreed that we would continue a process of meeting once a quarter with the breed societies to discuss various issues. The next of those meetings is scheduled for 30 May. I take calls regularly from all members of various breed societies. There is ongoing communication with the breed societies. I would argue the point that there is no communication between the ICBF and the breed societies. That is simply not correct.
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
I will deal with some of the technical questions that have been asked with regard to the star ratings and the impact of the scheme. The objectives of the scheme, as pointed out initially, are to address some of the serious challenges that we had in the suckler herd relating to key metrics such as calves per cow per year. There were serious concerns from a climate and environment perspective as to the future of the suckler cow. It is a scheme that was implemented in 2015 with a strong focus on genomics, genetics and the benefits of that as a technology to drive productivity and sustainability improvements, and the outcomes have been very significant. We have turned this issue around. Akin to the challenges in the dairy industry with milk and fertility which Senator Lombard talked about, the correlation has to be broken between these two sets of traits that are going in opposite directions, the terminal traits and maternal traits. We did a great job through using visual, and growth, and things we can easily see as breeders and people who are in marts, relating to these visual traits, growth and confirmation.
The challenge we have when we look at an animal is whether that animal will transmit genes for female fertility, for milk, for feed intake and efficiency, and for health and disease traits. These are the unseen traits that a technology such as genomics and an understanding of the DNA help us with. If we look at the outcomes of the scheme, calves per cow per year across the industry within the scheme herds has gone from 0.8 to 0.87. That is an extra 70,000 calves in the system which, if one reflects it across an industry with an average value of €1,400 or €1,500 for an animal slaughtered, is €100 million of additional income for farmers in an industry that is very challenged in that regard.
The question for us is whether we can improve that productivity around the maternal traits and not lose the terminal traits. That is at the core of concerns expressed here today, that we are seeing the quality of the suckler herd, animals coming through to marts and to the meat processing sector, declining. The Charolais Society referred to this earlier in its submission. As my colleague Mr. Coughlan noted, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF has independent data, it has no vested interest in this whatever. We are there as an organisation to manage the data and compute independent genetic evaluation on behalf of all the shareholders, herd books, artificial insemination, AI, companies and farmers across the industry.
Bord Bia's annual review, published in January, shows that the average carcass weight of steers has dropped by 4.5 kg. Immediately, people took the view that was because of a decline in the quality of the suckler herd, linked to the Beef Data and Genomics Programme, BDGP. That is simply not correct. The decline that happened between 2016 and 2017 is completely driven by an increase in dairy-bred steers, beef and dairy steers, coming from an expanding dairy herd into the processing industry. The key data on that shows that in terms of beef animals, the average carcass weight has gone from 379 kg to 386 kg. Carcass weight is increasing in our three quarter bred suckler beef population. Over the same period, the age of slaughter in our suckler beef herd has declined by 20 days, so we are getting more carcass weight at a younger age and at no loss in quality. Carcass confirmation has remained at R=R+ for three-quarter bred suckler steers. These are the facts in the data that comes to the ICBF data base via the meat processing industry. We have shared the data with Bord Bia which it uses in its communication across the industry.
The issue of declining carcass weight and grade is happening but it is a consequence of the expanding dairy herd, it is not some impact of the BDGP on the suckler herd. What we are getting is more carcass weight at the same grade.
On Deputy Cahill's question about the price per kilogramme in the marts, we are getting more of these calves. That is the key productivity driver. The scheme is winning in that regard.
I also draw the members' attention to a very important piece of independent data from an on-farm validation study that Teagasc has just undertaken. It cuts to the core of why ICBF recommends that a scheme would be hooked to these Euro-Star indices. There were 45 farms involved in this study over the previous three years, 2015 to 2017, inclusive, where we have weighed their cows and calves annually. I have given members a table which shows their replacement indices on the farms when the scheme started, including the new replacement females that are coming in. The idea of the scheme is to try to give some level of surety to farmers that if they are going out to buy a group of heifers or are bringing in heifers based on the stars, that on average those heifers will deliver in profitability and sustainability. Naturally, there will be one or two heifers or bulls in the group that will deviate beyond the expectation but it shows how the average of the group has performed.
Deputy Fitzmaurice asked us to explain the table a bit more. It is positive that these 46 herds have more four-star and five-star cows; some of them are better farm herds or various Teagasc herds. However, if we look at the average age of first calving of those heifers, it is 36 days younger - they have a shorter calving interval. Senator Lombard asked about the whole breeding programme and Charolais. These cows are lighter but they are weaning a heavier weanling. This is the principle of more from less which is completely consistent with what we are trying to achieve in this scheme. Critically, those weanlings are moving on to finishing farms and are being slaughtered at a higher carcass weight, an extra 13 kg, and at a younger age. That is independent of whether they go to a farmer that is feeding an intensive finishing system at half a tonne of meal or a more extensive system. On average the five-star animals are getting to a higher carcass weight at an earlier age.
If we return to one of the key requirements of the scheme, the question is whether these cows can do that and produce less methane. That is the challenge for the suckler cow. Our goal is 1 million suckler cows and I am on the record saying that we are absolutely committed to the suckler beef herd and driving genetic gain within it. I will return to that in terms of the dairy-bred influence. In this scheme, we must present that these five-star cows are more climate efficient than the suckler cow that we know across Europe and that we want to keep in Ireland. Those cows produce less methane than the one-star cows. The reason is that there is a direct correlation between cow size, dry matter intake and methane output. It is a biological fact. Bigger cows eat more and produce more methane. If we can have smaller cows, not so small that they will not have a decent calf - a 660 kg cow can produce a weanling of 311 kg, producing a carcass weight at 374 kg - then we will have a more profitable industry.
On the idea that this is in some way promoting the use of dairy-bred stock, before the scheme started, 26% of our replacement females were first processed from the dairy herd, now the percentage of first crosses from the dairy herd in the scheme is coming in annually at 23%. The perception that farmers are going out and buying first crosses from the dairy herd to meet the scheme requirements are simply not factually correct. The data from marts that we hold in the database independently verify that. All this data is open, transparent and available for further interrogation.
About 9% of bulls are currently cross-bred. It is not a decision taken by ICBF, it was a decision made by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine many years ago. ICBF's position on the matter is that we do not want to support cross-bred bulls. The beef data genomics programme promotes genetic improvement within the breeds. The percentage of cross-bred bulls in BDGP herds is less than 1% so the scheme is working in that regard. If we look at the 15,800 stock bulls that are in BDGP herds, 200 are cross-bred bulls with progeny. That is because as part of the scheme we have been very focused on getting farmers to understand that we need to start trying to identifying stock bulls and AI bulls with the terminal traits as well as these maternal traits of female fertility, age of first calving, etc.
Farmers will ask how we do that and the answer is the within-breed breed improvement programmes we operate. Mr. Coughlan has referred to the committees we run. There are three meetings a year to try to generate genetic gain within the breeds. We encourage the farmers. They get a four-hour training course at the start and we tell them to use genotype four and five star pedigree bulls. That is the advice we give because that is where the best outcome will come from. It has worked. Fewer than 200 bulls in the scheme are cross-bred. That is another good example of how the scheme is working positively. When we look at the number of bulls being traded, it has actually increased over the course of the scheme. Of course, farmers are focusing more on the four and five-star requirement, but that is also because suckler farmers are starting to see the benefits of being in the scheme. Whether they buy in bulls or use AI, they are coming back and seeing it in their four and five-star females.
I am trying to grasp this. We have already heard about volatility in the star system. Aside from any discussion we are having here, what ICBF proposes is costing people money. How can the witnesses stand over the star rating of these animals? Surely, there is not enough information on these animals to say this is gospel. People have invested and they are losing money on the basis of it. We cannot ignore that here. Dr. Cromie is not speaking to that or to any downside. It is like a parallel universe here. Why are these people frustrated? Is Dr. Cromie saying they do not understand? Can they be spoken to properly and provided with information? It is one thing to have meetings and another to communicate and actually listen to people. These are just some thoughts which come to mind. I do not think these people are up here for no reason. I am sure they have better things to do on their farms than to be up here consistently raising these issues with us. I ask Dr. Cromie to speak to those issues and the problems which have been outlined here very clearly by those who are now sitting in the Gallery.
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
To deal with the issue of indexes changing, one of the key aspects introduced to the scheme by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at the very start is that once an animal is genotyped and has a genomic evaluation and once it is four or five stars, that animal is eligible for the purposes of the scheme, regardless of what happens to its stars afterwards. That provides at least a level of assurance to the farmer that he or she has purchased a bull or a replacement heifer which is now eligible as per the scheme. It should be remembered that three quarters of replacement females are bred within herds, so the farmer has brought this animal in. That was introduced because we knew that a genotype four and five-star animal would deliver this additional profitability. We must accept that there will be one or two females and at an extreme an animal could change by €70 or €80, but whenever we look at the number of animals that have fallen out of the four and five-star category since the scheme started, 75% are still four and five stars. Less than 1% have moved from this magical one to five stars, which we often hear about.
We talk about data not changing, but genotyping is helping us to address one of the big challenges we face in the context of the scheme, namely, that sires change. Simple mistakes are made in registrations and to AI straws and to bulls. There are significant data changes which happen in the pedigree of an animal which could result in its proof changing by €50, €60 or €70. There is another important point. The volume of data we are now collecting in the context of the scheme is absolutely world leading. France was referenced as a very good example. Of course, they have their traditional breeding programmes there which are very much based on within-breed breeding. The volume of data participants are providing on calf quality, calf docility, cow milk scores, and cow culling reasons is huge. That allows us to update the genetic and genomic evaluations for animals. Importantly, the animal a farmer bought or brought in that was genotyped on day 1 is still eligible. By updating the evaluations, we are trying to ensure that the next time a farmer goes back to make a decision on new AI sire or stock bull he is buying, he or she will have access to more accurate genetic and genomic evaluations from the large volume of data in the system.
ICBF exists to collect independent data from across the industry. It is absolutely natural that as the data accumulates, we will update the genetic and genomic evaluations for individual animals. I think that helps to answer Senator Lombard's question about why proofs of bulls change. It is because this year we have a great deal more data on that bull or cow than we had last year. If a farmer wants us to help him or her make a decision on whether to cull a cow or breed a replacement female from her or whether to buy a bull, it is critical that ICBF keeps updating that information. Fluctuations in proofs are a simple consequence of collecting data and carrying out genetic evaluations. What we are very clear about is that on average across many animals, there will be no change. If our index is right, while individuals will go up and down, we will take the industry in the direction of having, on average, more calves per cow per year, better weaning rates, lighter cows, higher carcass weights and younger ages of slaughter. That is the model applied in beef. The exact same principles have been applied in dairying and everyone in the room will acknowledge that the economic breeding index, or EBI, has helped to lead that sector in profitability gains and sustainability.
We will not have 1 million born this year. Even if we use that figure, we are up 0.3% on dead calves at birth. According to those figures, we are actually down 10,000 calves if one looks at the 28 days and the 1.3%. It was at 1% in 2014 and it is 1.3% now for calves dead at birth.
I asked a question earlier seeking an answer in percentage terms. Of all beef calves born in Ireland each year, what percentage are there from beginning to end in Ireland in total about which the ICBF knows everything? Mr. Doran was correcting some of the things said here earlier. Perhaps I misheard him. I thought I heard references to the IFA and the ICMSA. Is that right?
Why is there not someone here from the ICSA or the INHFA? They are farming organisations as well. Is there someone who is on 14 or 15 of the breeds?
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
Yes, but there is no difference in carcass grade between the progeny of five-star and one-star animals. I will deal with the question about the price per kilo on weanlings per mart. It was noted that it was slightly higher for the progeny for one-star cows relative to the progeny of five-star cows. There are a couple of very relevant points in that table. Some 11,180 €1,000 weanlings were sold last year through marts, as per the data in the database. Of those, more than three times as many are coming from five-star cows, which have a combination of weight and price per kilo. The same price per kilo is not being achieved, and I acknowledge that.
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
More of the progeny are coming from five-star cows. The figure of €1,100 is accounted for by the better weight and the slightly younger age at weaning. The Deputy is correct that there is a slippage in terms of price per kilo. It is partially linked to the point made by Deputy Fitzmaurice around the weanling export market. Many of the weanlings are picked up on the export market, where people are prepared to pay a slightly higher price. When those animals go into finishing systems and are finished in Ireland, the five-star animals end up at a higher carcass weight, the same carcass grade and the same price per kilo. I am very happy to share that data because they are data we have access to.
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
I was referring to the index. The index changes over time. We look at how many animals have moved from being four-star or five-star from the start of the scheme. There is a view here that this scheme should not be linked to the star system because of the fluctuations in the indexes.
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
It is a guide, and a key tool to drive profitability when they are used across large groups of animals. In the context of the scheme the farmers are buying artificial insemination straws or stock bulls or bringing in replacement females. On average it is very clear that genotype four-star and five-star animal will lead to more profitability over the course of its lifetime.
If they are killed at the average price - €4 per kilo - it works out at €1,500. A person buying that animal after 250 days is going to keep the animal and kill it at 374 kg and will get €1,500 for it. That is €400 more. A tonne of meal will also be put into that animal, and it will have to be held and given grass.
Mr. Sean Coughlan:
We are talking here about the stars of the cows they have come out of. A farmer is also potentially using a terminal Charolais bull. That means he will get the milk, fertility and growth rate from the female. Then, the farmer puts the terminal on that. There are two parts to the puzzle in terms of the finished animal.
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
This comes back to the economics. Teagasc Grange was involved in developing the economic value. The ICBF computes the genetic evaluation. Teagasc computes the economic values by working with Bord Bia and the relevant agencies. The Vice Chairman is asking how to get more carcass confirmation. That will come back to the issue of taking from milk and fertility and the other traits, because they are operating against each other. The confirmation comes at a price, which is the issue. The index has to reflect full farm profitability, which is a combination of several features. A farmer will want a cow that will calve every year, one that will rear a calf and a good quality calf that will go through to slaughter. There are many pieces to the jigsaw.
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
They do when we look at them as weanlings in terms of the price per kilo graph that the Vice Chairman zoned in on. However, the picture is different when they get through to slaughter. Deputy Fitzmaurice asked a question about this. Some 70,000 or 80,000 animals from the suckler herd are exported every year. The vast majority continue to be slaughtered here. I accept fully that it is an important market for the industry, but the indices have to reflect what is happening throughout the industry.
Mr. Sean Coughlan:
We get the calving information on all the animals. It depends on where they go. We get all the movement information on anything that goes through the marts from the 70 marts that we deal with. We get the calf quality and docility information and information on the cows from anyone in the scheme. We get all of the data on any animals that go through the main slaughter factories.
The ICBF can gather all the information from almost every herd. I wish to ask something off the bat. The general data protection regulation, GDPR, will be in force from 25 May. Will the federation be allowed to gather all the information after that data?
Mr. Sean Coughlan:
We have written authorisation in one form or another for all the herds. All personal information is subject to the GDPR from next Friday. If anyone decides not to interact with the database in respect of his personal data, we have to accommodate that. We are constantly working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the context of data flows around the GDPR.
Dr. Andrew Cromie:
I wish to answer Senator Lombard's earlier question about cross-breeding and breeding programmes because it is relevant to this discussion. The Senator will be aware from his dairy farming background that cross-breeding never took off, even though the science suggested farmers should cross-breed. Senator Lombard asked why a farmer would not do it. That reason is that the economic breeding index has data going back to 2005. At the time, the ICBF was in the midst of various storms around changing the direction of dairy breeding away from holsteinisation and milk traits to talking about a trait that the farmer could not see. The relevant question was whether the cow would calve, that is, female fertility. he ICBF was embroiled for several years in controversy regarding the new index.
As a direct consequence of the new index and commercial farmers having confidence in the index, they did not cross-breed. It is as clear as day. In other countries that do not have the database, the data, independent genetic evaluation or an agency like Teagasc, farmers have been cross-breeding.
Let us look at this in the context of beef. What we are doing now is unpopular. We are changing the approach to breeding to focus on traits that the farmer cannot see. Farmers have to be more reliant on science and technology to help them to identify these traits. That is what the BDGP is all about. The improvement has started to move in the right direction. Now the key is whether we can generate engagement with the breed societies and the bull breeders because commercial suckler farmers now want these bulls and AI straws. In that sense, it is no different from the economic breeding index story. A fire has been lit in that regard. Farmers see the increases in profitability and now they want more of them. I accept the points made regarding communication and so on. Our challenge is how to get a beef industry or beef breeding programme going. We do not want to see the influx of dairy genes into the suckler beef herd. If we are going to control our suckler beef herd, we need to work with all the breeds to identify the bulls within them that will drive terminal and maternal traits. As a consequence, as Mr. Coughlan has alluded to, we hold three meetings per year with every breed and we have breeding programmes involving every breed to try to generate gain. We have an active bull list containing all the bulls across all breeds. We encourage the bull breeders. The breeds at the top of the bull list provide reassurance. Many Charolais bulls are on the list for replacement index, which means there is an opportunity. That is because it is a large breed with a large number of good committed breeders. We are now using genomics in this way. We bring data from France and the UK to identify exceptional Charolais bulls, but it is for this new index. Traditionally, we could not see components of the index. That change is the challenge. That is the core of what we have to do now. We need engagement to get this industry moving. If we can do that, the outcomes and gains we have discussed that have been achieved in dairying can be achieved in beef and more besides. It is, therefore, a fantastic opportunity.
In fairness, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine went out on a limb to back the BDGP. Officials had seen how the EBI worked and decided to support science and technology. They understand that the ICBF was independent with no vested interest. Its representation is drawn from across the industry to drive industry good and industry gain and they will support this scheme. The ICBF is not in favour of any dilution or diminution of the scheme.
From an Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, standpoint, what we really need to do is to get the engagement to get the scheme going. There should be no dilution or diminution of that scheme - of course core schemes need to be discussed and reviewed - but everything now is moving in the right direction. That is what we want to see.