Data on the national cattle herd is published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and is sourced from my Department’s Animal Identification and Movement system which electronically records data on animal movements on a central database in accordance with EU traceability requirements. The CSO figures categorise cows according to whether they are kept for beef or dairy production. The results of the December 2012 Livestock Survey show that beef cow numbers stood at 1,127,900 head, which was an increase of 4.1% relative to 2011 as high cattle prices in recent years have encouraged producers to restock and expand their herds.
My Department does not keep records of the annual cost of keeping a suckler cow. Teagasc data, however shows there is a considerable variation in this figure depending on the level of efficiency of production on individual farms. Teagasc has indicated that the variable cost of maintaining a suckler cow and calf to weanling stage is between €400 on the more efficient farms to €550 on the less efficient ones. A further €350 to €450 per cow need to be added for fixed costs.
Under the National Farm Survey series Teagasc gave, in 2011, the average direct cost of production per hectare for Single Suckling enterprises ranged from €350 per hectare on those farms with the lowest average gross margin to €463 per hectare on the most profitable farms. The most profitable third of Single Suckling farms earned an average gross output of €1,013 per hectare compared with an average gross output of €451 per hectare on the least profitable one third of Single Suckling enterprises. This variability in average gross output is in large part due to the higher average stocking on the more profitable farms. These farms had an average stocking rate of 1.57 livestock units (LU) per hectare compared with only 1.03 LU per hectare for those farms with the lowest profitability.
In this context the primary focus of measures introduced by my Department is on improving the efficiency on farms through direct support and with the assistance of other agencies. These include initiatives such as the Beef Technology Adoption Programme (BTAP), which is designed to equip beef farmers with the knowledge to improve efficiency at farm level. Some €4.5 million was paid in 2012 to 4,800 farmers under the programme.
Also this year my Department recently launched the Beef Data Programme for which €10 million has been allocated in 2013. This new programme will assist farmers in improving the genetic quality of Irish cattle and will maintain the data flow into ICBF in order to build further knowledge and more rapid progress in breeding and ultimately in profitability for farmers. In addition my Department continues to support the work of ICBF in improving genetic quality in the beef herd. On the advisory side Teagasc provides a best practice model for suckler farmers with the expanded BETTER Beef Farm Programme and Bord Bia assists with the marketing of quality beef through their Beef Quality Assurance Scheme.
My Department and its agencies will continue to make every effort to assist the development of the beef sector in line with the Food Harvest 2020 Strategy.