‘A PGI for suckler beef is vital to help the sector survive’

Getting a Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) for suckler beef is key to helping the sector survive in rural Ireland, according to Chris McLoughlin.

Chis, who lives outside Killaloe, Co Clare has a fragmented farm, with part of it over the border in Tipperary, eight miles from the home farm.

Not alone is the farm, part of which he inherited from an uncle, in two different locations, but he also describes it as “scattered”.

It means the farm is not suited to dairying and Chris keeps a mixture of suckler cows and sheep.


Some of Chris’s herd of Limousin cows and calves including Angus and Simmental

“The Clare farm has about 85 acres in it and I inherited it from my uncle. The rest in Tipperary is about 55 acres and there is eight miles between the two farms.

“It means there is a lot of traipsing over and back between the two. You’d want nearly two of everything.

“Every field here is not fit for silage, so you have to move cattle to graze it off. I rarely have the option to open a gate and let cattle into the next field. Moving cattle for me is an operation.

“We have the suckers split over the summer, half in Tipperary and the other half in Clare during the summer.

“Then, I winter the weanlings in Tipperary and the sucklers at home, so winter and summer you’re out and back a lot. From a management point of view it’s farming two farms rather than one.

“I have 40 suckler cows and keep the calves until they are a year and half when I sell them. I don’t finish anything on the farm.

“The cows are a mix of continentals, mainly Limousin cross and a few Angus, with some Simmentals. We keep two bulls on the farm, both Limousins”.

Part of both land blocks are planted, with 4.4ha in Tipperary planted with spruce in 2010. This was a group planting, with neighbours coming together to form 10-15ha of forestry. Also, 1.25ha in Killaloe was planted with hardwood in 1996 and takes out a rough incline down to a river.


Suffolk ewes and Charollais rams on Chris’s farm

Chris also keeps 50 ewes, mainly Suffolk and a couple of Rouge, crossed with two Charollais rams.

“Dairying would not work as it’s not together. We were dairying a bit in Portroe but the numbers are bigger now and land area has to increase with that, so it’s not an option,” he says.

“As well as that the land is different quality, with some heavier land and some that burns during the drought. With the extreme weather we are getting between droughts and floods it does bring up more challenges than it used to.

“Before we would not have had a long dry or wet period, but there is no middle any more and it does create big challenges — getting slurry out, spreading fertiliser, grazing land, moving stock and trying to predict growth.

“Even from a thrive point of few, the sheep didn’t do well during the drought and the heavier land was closed off for GLAS and a traditional hay meadow, so you’re tied with schemes like that — you can’t be as flexible.”


Chris with his wife Martina and their children Cian (18) and Sorcha (21)

Around him it’s mainly suckling. “The dairy numbers have dropped around this region, with no burst of new entrants. Most farmers are in beef as their land is scattered and they don’t have the option of going into dairying.”

But he’s confident the PGI status could help the suckler farmer.

“If we get this PGI status it could be a big help to the suckler cow man. If we get a 10-20c increase in product prices if we can get it into premium markets, rather than volume and low prices. We need to get away from that if we want the suckler sector to survive.”

Brexit is in the back of a lot of people’s minds, he says, especially beef finishers.

“The UK is a major market and I don’t know how it will be replaced in a hurry. I hope we can still sell into the UK, even if it’s at a higher price.


According to Chris, with a split farm you’d nearly want two of everything

“Developing new markets are all about getting your product on the shelves and to do that you have to displace someone else to get on supermarket shelves.

“On the ground, the only hope is that more cattle might go live to take some of the volume.”

According to Chris every farmer wants to improve the environment, but for any environmental scheme to work there has to be farmer buy-in.

“Environmental schemes can’t be recycled money. People must see their incomes increasing if they go into schemes.

“Everyone wants to do their bit to improve the environment, but there is a cost if farmers have to limit production.”

Online Editors

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