West Cork in the national spotlight

Posted on: 3rd April, 2018

Category: Farming

Contributor: Tommy Moyles

In his farming diary, West Cork suckler farmer and columnist with the Irish Farmers Journal, Tommy Moyles covers the lay of the land across all agri and farming enterprises – news, views and people in farming across West Cork and further afield.

While weather has proved extremely difficult this March, it has been a busy month in the world of West Cork agriculture.

West Cork winners in the 2018 Certified Irish Angus Beef Schools competition

Hitting the headlines recently were St Brogan’s pupils, Mark Shorten and Conor Lehane (pictured above), who won the 2018 Certified Irish Angus Beef Schools competition. The results were announced at an awards ceremony in Croke Park on March 14. The annual competition gives five secondary school teams the chance to rear Angus cross calves for 18 months, as part of their Leaving Certificate Ag Science project.

Conor from Timoleague and Mark from Eniniskeane are both from dairy farming families. Explaining why they entered the competition, the boys said, “We had a good insight into dairy farming and we wanted to know more about the beef industry.”

Through the competition, the young farmers learned a lot about the beef industry in Ireland and abroad. As part of the competition, the competing schools were brought to the Netherlands, where they visited the head office of Albert Heijn, the biggest supermarket chain in the Netherlands. They also visited Hilton Meats Zaandam, a veal farm and an Albert Heijn supermarket where certified Irish Angus beef is being sold.

Of the veal farm, the lads said the cleanliness was a standout feature. Conor sums it up best. “You could eat your dinner off the floor it was so clean. Something else we noticed was that the farms there are located very close to one another. The yards are in clusters, so one backs onto the other.”

Before heading for Amsterdam, Conor and Mark got a tour of Bord Bia’s Thinking House in Dublin. Conor added, “It was phenomenal to see the work they put in marketing our products. It was a big eye opener.”

From their experience, Conor and Mark would encourage other students to get involved in any of the competitions in Transition year. “They help to change your mindset, as you go from the Junior to the Senior cycle,” explains Mark. “We learned skills in this we wouldn’t normally have had a chance to, like PR, and public speaking.”

Conor and Mark were described by the judges as “Two exceptional students and mature young men who are outstanding ambassadors for themselves, their farms and their schools who demonstrated a passion and enthusiasm for the project but also a generosity of spirit through their charitable work and willingness to help other competitors throughout the process”.

Charles Smith, general manager of the Irish Angus Producer Group, said “From the outset, it was clear that Mark and Conor were two robust young farmers with a keen interest in dairy and beef farming.”

On completion of the project, each of the finalists received the financial benefit involved in the selling of the animals to the processors. This amounted to an average of €6,550. The winning students also received an additional grant of €2,000 for their further education.

Throughout the competition they ran a series of promotions including videos, radio interviews attendance at local agricultural shows and awareness events in the school.

Conor described their biggest fundraising undertaking. “We had a certified Irish Angus beef night, which we held in Bandon in the Copper Grove restaurant. We put on a four-course meal with a certified Irish Angus beef theme and 85 people from both the farming and business communities attended. We raised €1,500 for Cancer Connect.”

The St Brogans students’ generosity to charity didn’t end there, as Mark explains. “After we got paid for the animals we gave €500 to West Cork Rapid Response and another €500 to our school to go towards counselling for anyone with mental health issues.

“The school was so good to us, from our teachers Miss Kelleher and Paudie Palmer, to the office staff who helped out. Our parents were also very helpful. They were like taxi drivers for us and helped us with some of the PR.”

After their impressive win, the students intend to carry on their careers in agriculture. On completion of the Leaving Cert, Mark hopes to study Dairy Business Management at UCD, whilst topping Conor’s CAO form is Agricultural Science at Waterford Institute of Technology.

Owen O’Driscoll elected new president of the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA)

The Bandon students were not the only West Cork folk in the national spotlight last month, as Skibbereen man, Owen O’Driscoll, was elected as the new president of the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) at its annual conference in Birr, Co Offaly. The ACA represents the Independent Agricultural Consultants in Ireland.

He takes over the presidency from Laura Johnston who held the position for two years. Owen set up his own agricultural consultancy in 1995 and operates in the West Cork/Kerry region.

Brexit and the CAP restructure

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for Brexit, Simon Coveney said that given the strength of the food industry and tourism in the area, West Cork is uniquely exposed to Brexit. Speaking at an event in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, he said that, from a marketing point of view, food products may have to gradually look at less reliance on the UK market and maybe look at the current product ranges, adapting them to other markets if required.

He also said the government are spending more money than ever before on trying to open up new markets to try and remove the over-reliance on the British market.

Highlighting the growth in the Chinese market in recent years, he informed the attendance that there will be €16 billion worth of trade between the two countries this year. €1 billion of that will be in the form of food, with infant milk formula forming a significant proportion.

The other uncertainty Brexit creates is the removal of their contributions to the Common Agricultural policy (CAP).

County Cork receives €193.96m worth of funding from the CAP. This is the largest amount received by any one county in Ireland and includes nearly €157m in Basic Payment System (BPS) money and over €37m from the Rural Development Programme (RDP). Holding this level of funding for the CAP will be difficult following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and will be one of the biggest challenges faced.

Milk price and weather

While Brexit and the CAP restructure are the bigger picture issues at the moment on a local level, milk price and a colder March than usual are more pressing issues. Both Carbery and Dairygold reduced their February milk price by 2c/l. This is in line with current market trends but is still no doubt hard to take after a tough winter.

Throughout the country, the delayed spring is causing severe hardship on farmers, as dead animal collectors and feed mills report a rise in demand due to the prolonged cold weather.

Saturated land and non-existent grass growth have placed significant pressure on housing, with grass growth stalled at 5.5kg/day, compared to the normal March average of 23kg/day. This is creating a strain on farmers especially those who are have most of their cows calved.

Peak calf season has just passed and it has been a busy one with almost 7,500 calves sold in Bandon mart between their last sale in February and the first three in March.

The average price paid for a Friesian bull, according to ICBF figures, in mid March was €77/head. This is back €16/head on 2017 levels.

Reduced farmer demand for Friesian bulls has resulted in exporters underpinning the market. They are paying €60 to €80/head for most export calves and up to €100/head for top-quality types.

Ground conditions aren’t just difficult for grazing; tillage farmers also find themselves behind schedule with spring planting.

Many farmers are relying on supplementing stock with meal to stretch fodder supplies with prices between €20 and €30/bale for silage at the moment.

On the home front, calving is progressing nicely with over 60 per cent calved at this stage. Lack of grass growth is my biggest concern at the moment. The snow made the world a little less busy and provided a chance to talk to neighbours a bit more than usual. We wouldn’t be as accustomed to snow this close to the sea but it was like the sea mist we get here, in that it got in through any opening into buildings. I stacked up straw bales outside the north east facing openings in all buildings to try to prevent it. To reduce water demand, I pulled ration and increased silage to the young stock until there was a sufficient thaw. I left a tap running in the calving shed so that, along with only having eight calved, eased concerns there. The calving cameras stopped due to the cold too so it was back to the ‘get out of bed and check’ method. Thankfully the cows held off calving for a few days. Our only casualty of the cold spell was a farm cat that got caught in a snowdrift.


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