Farmer Focus: Beef price crash worry

Two of my main passions in life are food and farming and at this time of year it’s full steam ahead with the farming.

Slurry is nearly all spread and the fertiliser is going on tomorrow. Calving is in full flow. Last year I timed calving to match university breaks and calved 120 that month. Let’s hope I am as lucky this year.

It’s a pleasure to go to the field and find sheep lambed, although I have had a touch of enzootic abortion – the only thing I have not vaccinated against.

Beef prices have crashed here, with quotes starting at 336p/kg for U-grades. There has to be a way forward to prevent this and direct contracts may be part of a solution. It’s a very worrying situation for many, as expensive store cattle were bought in the autumn in the hope of rising prices. We have the most expensive beef in Europe and while it may be the best quality and have the best welfare, is the consumer willing to pay for it, or are supermarkets making too much money out of us?

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Recently I was approached to run for deputy president of the Ulster Farmers Union. After some initial thought about the time involved, I decided to try to make a difference by sharing my passion for the farming industry with others near and far, to be clear about what farming means to Northern Ireland and to watch out for the industry’s interests.

It’s important we all sing from the same hymn sheet, as too many options cause confusion and in the end will help nobody except those with hidden agendas. Now the wait is on for the AGM in May.

This month’s drama happened one morning at 4am when I was heading to the meat plant with five heifers and a spare tyre. Halfway there I had a blowout with three tyres. The trailer is like new, but the tyres obviously not. Thanks to David Angus for getting me sorted. I finally got home eight hours after leaving. The moral of the story – something that looks sound may not be, so check!

Sam Chesney runs a spring-calving herd of 120 Limousin cross sucklers in Kircubbin, Northern Ireland. He was 2011 Farmers Weekly Beef Farmer of the Year.