Wednesday, 23 November 2016
It was with deep shock and alarm that we heard the news last week that Cork Marts proposes to pull out of the export trade of live calves. It is a very important trade because it takes the glut of Friesian bull calves off the market, which helps our beef and dairy industries. This is an alarming decision for the agricultural community. Approximately 60% of the dairy industry is based in Munster and there are 1.4 million dairy cows in Ireland. Of those, the vast bulk will be in calf to a Friesian going forward and to have a glut in the market for Friesian bull calves running into the January-February calving season is a great worry.
Last year, Cork Marts exported up to 20,000 head of calves. Spain received approximately 7,000 head and Holland approximately 12,000 head. That is equivalent to a quarter of the export trade at the moment for live calves in Ireland. In 2015, 85,500 live calves were exported. This year, the number dropped by 13,000 to 72,500. This will have a knock-on effect on the beef industry. The kill in Ireland has increased by 5.1% or 70,000 head of cattle. It is projected next year that the kill will increase by a further 6% on top of that, which would be a further 120,000 head of cattle. There will be a glut on the beef side of the market too, which will have a knock-on effect on the beef and dairy industries. Nobody wants these Friesian bull calves in Ireland. We need to get a market. The most appropriate and fastest way to get these calves off the island is to take them off when they are between three and six weeks old, because seven calves can be moved in the same space as a 500 kg bullock would require in the trailer.
It is a major worry for our market and for the island. In many ways we need to engage with the exporters to ensure we have an outlet. This could become a welfare issue because how will we deal with 1.4 million dairy cows calving with no outlet for these Friesian bull calves? Artificial insemination, AI, is up 6% and most of it is Friesian so there will be more Friesian bull calves on the market. We need to work with the exporters and with Cork Marts to get them back into the business. Bandon Mart will have 1,800 head of Friesian bull calves going through it in peak weeks. That is a phenomenal figure. It is the biggest mart in Ireland. We need Cork Marts to come back into the business because it is in a real dairy heartland. If it does not come back, calves will plummet from €90 to €120 this year to anything between €50 and €60. That would be the maximum. It is a huge problem for us and I hope An Bord Bia might be able to work with the exporters and with the Department to try to encourage exporters.Unless exporters come into the space, it will have a knock-on effect on the dairy industry but will a huge impact on the beef industry in the years to come. We do not want grade P animals coming onto the grid. At the moment they are coming on around 350 cent to 360 cent a kilo. It will be a nightmare situation if these animals come onto the market in two and a half years' time. I hope we can engage and do something because if we do not, we will have a huge problem in two and a half years' time and next spring it will be a disaster for the calf trade.
I thank Senator Lombard for raising the matter. The decision by Cork Co-operative Marts to remove itself from its direct involvement in the live trade in calves is a matter for the company. It would be inappropriate for the Department to comment on that decision which is based on commercial considerations.
On the general issue of live cattle exports, I want to stress that we have built huge expertise in this trade over the years with a number of top class players involved in this sector. Total live exports of calves and cattle amount to nearly 125,000 so far this year. The live export trade, whether to other European Union member states or to third countries, is a vital component of Ireland's livestock industry and serves a dual purpose of stimulating price competition for domestic cattle and satisfying a real demand in overseas markets for specific types of animal. It complements the processed beef trade by providing alternative market outlets, thereby underpinning the meat and livestock industry generally.
The main exporters of calves from Ireland have built up their experience over many years. Ireland takes pride in its strong reputation for maintaining high transport standards. The transport of animals over long distances is conducted in a manner which safeguards the animals being transported. That is something to which we are committed, namely, having the highest animal welfare standards in terms of live export transport arrangements. Not only do we meet the EU standard but in fact we insist on a higher standard. That is appropriate and proper given our significant dependance on that market.
The live cattle trade has proved more difficult in recent years due to changes in animal health rules, particularly in Belgium, as regards infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, IBR. Changes in the interpretation of the European Union rules on animal transport in the Netherlands have in recent times created some additional difficulties for Irish calf exporters for the coming spring. My Department has been working closely with the Dutch authorities in this matter and will continue to do so. Other markets such as Spain will play an increasing role in this trade.
Senator Lombard will be aware that Bord Bia has an active promotional programme in place that supports exports to both established continental and new markets for live cattle. Through its international network of overseas offices, it actively supports the development of the live export trade through the provision of market information, developing market access and promotional activity.
The major development this autumn of the reopening of live trade to Turkey has resulted in three significant shipments already having taken place involving in excess of 8,000 cattle. I should also mention the trade mission I led to Morocco and a subsequent trade mission to Algeria. Apart from these countries, the markets currently open to live cattle from Ireland include Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Serbia in addition to other member states of the European Union. Last year saw high levels of exports of cattle to both Britain and Northern Ireland, largely driven by favourable currency rates which made cattle from this country very competitive in those markets. I will continue to ensure that Irish livestock producers have the option of exporting to as many global markets as possible.
I welcome the statement made by the Minister on this important issue. Bord Bia's involvement in the markets is important. All I can ask is that we perhaps redouble our efforts regarding Bord Bia and see whether it could engage with exporters. If there is a space where a quarter of the export market is left open, we need to encourage new people to come in. I appreciate that it is a sensitive issue with the Bandon Mart co-operative stepping out of it, but the space and where it is at the moment is a huge issue for the agriculture industry.
I assure the Senator that endeavour will continue and intensify. Bord Bia's engagement in this matter is in partnership with the live exports. I was in north Africa recently on a trade mission which had participants from the live export trade as well as from Bord Bia on the trade delegation. There is that joined-up thinking in respect of the endeavour.
I appreciate we are facing a perfect storm in many respects. The expansion of the dairy herd has brought an increased number of Friesian bull calves, in particular, to the marketplace. The overwhelming trade in the export of calves has been in that space. We also face immediately the challenges associated with Brexit in the form of fluctuations in sterling, which has made it more difficult for the beef sector. This makes it imperative that live export opportunities to any possible location are exploited, bearing in mind our continued commitment, and that of live exporters, to the highest animal welfare standards which are a fundamental foundation stone of that policy as approached by both the exporters and my Department. I again thank the Senator for raising the matter.