FARMER FOCUS: SFP plan could cripple beef producers

So the deal is done and the shape of the single farm payment for the next five years has been decided. The news will be bad for lowland suckler beef units such as my own. I predict a reduction of at least 66% in payment. All the cost-cutting and breed improvement will not be enough to make up for the shortfall and will require some sort of coupled payment like the Scots have had in the past to sweeten the hardship.

Recently I have had two excellent suckler men say they may quit all together. They said “we would be better selling silage to the dairy farmers than feeding suckler cows”, and with fixed costs about £400 and variable costs similar, the sums on all but the best farms don’t add up.

The first of my bulls went to ABP last week and did well enough, but carcass weights were back 30-40kg on previous years and I had a few more second grades than I would have liked. Yet another knock-on effect from last year’s terrible weather.

We’ve had a second go at synchronising the heifers for calving down at 24 months, which has gone well. They were AI’d to an Aberdeen Angus and a Hereford. Let’s hope I can get these calved, as last year’s AA ended a total disaster with seven C-sections, two dead and the rest hard-calving. Thank goodness I also used Limousin and a Stabiliser, which gave me no bother at all. These so-called easy-calving breeds must look closer at calving ease.

I had a couple of visits this month. First was a group of young men from north Wales and second an ABLEX group from northern England. It’s good to hear we all have similar views on breeding and feeding and all have similar problems, too, except our beef is still 35-40p behind the mainland.

Northern Ireland is still damp and as I write, some men are still doing first cut, with ground conditions still difficult in some western areas.

Talking of cold, I’m off to Turkey on holiday to get the bones dried out and to get a rest from the ever-increasing pressure of farming.

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

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