Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 17 December 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Teagasc Annual Report 2018: Discussion
I thank Professor Boyle and his delegation for that update report. Primary producers and farmers have never felt as much under siege as they now. Talking to them, it is evident that they feel the whole world is against them, whether with the economic challenges they are facing in their enterprises or with all the commentators blaming them for climate change.
Morale in agricultural communities is extremely low at present and Teagasc has an important role to play in counteracting that. Teagasc can undertake research on climate change to show we are sustainable producers of food but it is essential that it is economically viable for producers.
On the last occasion Professor Boyle made a presentation to us he talked about salary levels for researchers and difficulties with retaining researchers. Is retention still an issue? It is a serious problem if one cannot retain people after having trained them to a high level. I would like to hear his view on that.
I have raised the issue of the dairy breeding policy and its impact on the beef industry with the professor before. As much as 60% of the product from the beef industry originates from dairy production. In the past many of the research farms had cross-bred herds. What is the composition of the herds on the research farms of Teagasc? What is the composition of the herds on the farms of the agricultural colleges?
Calf welfare and their value is a huge issue. Public confidence in the way we produce our food, etc., is paramount for us winning the battle as regards sustainable food producers. The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, is in the process of re-evalutating the economic breeding index, EBI, and how that is calculated. There people, including those in Teagasc, who hold a different view of the re-evaluation. I strongly believe that not enough emphasis was placed on the beef value of the dairy EBI in the past. Let us take, for example, the culled cow value and a 20% replacement rate. If a Friesian cow is worth €500 more than a cross-bred cow then that equates to €100 per annum for EBI. Similarly, for a calf, if there is €50 or €100 of a difference with half female and half male then that equates to a significant financial input into the EBI. It is imperative that we get the breeding policy correct. We can have a cow that can produce a reasonable amount of solids with a reasonable volume of milk, and also produce a calf that is of value to the beef industry. Our research must focus on that going forward. We cannot go down the New Zealand route. A bobby calf is unacceptable to the modern consumer, which is an issue that must be faced up to by the dairy industry. If we got the EBI correct it would be very significant in this regard.
I noticed that there are six advisers for the pig industry. The industry is extremely intensive and challenging but six advisers is a high ratio for the number of pig producers versus 89 advisers for dairy farming and 140 advisers for drystock farming. I appreciate that a high demand is placed on the six advisers and they must respond to very challenging issues. However, the ratio is fewer than 1:50, which seems very high.
Last January, when we visited Moorepark I mentioned the impact of cross-breeding. There is now a greater focus on the issue. I know dairy farmers who have cross-bred herds and they say that cross-breeding is very beneficial. However, the dairy industry cannot generate a waste product and we must be conscious of public perception. I look forward to the ICBF re-evaluating the EBI and I would like to hear the views and comments of Professor Boyle on the issue.