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‘If you break that down to 365 days, it is working out at 90c/kg in the price of a weanling’

Dermot Kelleher took office as the new president of Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) at its AGM on Thursday, January 28th, 2021.

The suckler farmer runs a 40-strong herd with his son, consisting of commercial and pedigree Charolais, which he manages under the Carrignacurra prefix, in Inchigeela, County Cork.

“My son Dermot Christopher is the name on the Charolais certificates for a number of years; we are farming together.”

Kelleher previously operated a dairy enterprise in the early eighties, starting from very humble beginnings as he was not born into a farm. The married father-of-five, who is currently an AI technician and former postman, ventured into suckler farming in 1989.

He is a long-standing ICSA member and has been actively involved in the association, having served as chair within his county for a period and chair of its suckler committee.

In a wide-ranging interview with That’s Farming, the new farm leader highlighted key areas that he wishes to address in his new seat of office.

Membership

Dermot’s first planned call to action is to host a Zoom meeting to unite members from all counties.

“ICSA membership is not falling, but we have no recruitment with a year and another year coming it looks like. We have no recruiting officers on the road for nearly two years. ICSA is completely dependent on membership because we are not claiming levies.”

“We do not take money from the milk, the marts, the tillage farmers; there is even a levy when you buy tags. Over the last thirty years, I have gone to marts and factories refusing to pay these levies which have caused a lot of hassle.”

“The ICSA is one of the only independent farmer associations. My biggest job is to increase our membership and explain that you do not have to pay levies; they are voluntary.”

“The reason I am so enthusiastic about ICSA is that we represent the dry stock sector. Some other organisation tries to be all things to all men; you cannot be all things to all men, you are codding someone. You cannot serve people with two different agendas. We represent drystock farmers, the tillage farmer and that is all we do.”

Beef prices gap

The ICSA president expressed concerns about the gap between beef prices in Ireland and the UK and the influx of dairy-bred beef.

“We are not being told what the suckler herds are producing and can be producing. Ireland could probably produce some of the best beef in the world if given the opportunity. We have some of the best beef genetics in the world in his country.

“Yet, they insist on producing beef from dairy genetics and mixing beef with dairy genetics which does not make a whole pile of sense to me. To have a good sucking cow that is half a dairy does not make sense.”

“Our beef is also being sold in the UK, so that will just show you that the middlemen here in this country are creaming it. The elephant in the room is that there are processors in this country with a lot of influence that are not being called to order.”

“When you got into a shop and see two steaks for the price of one or roast beef half price today, who is paying for that? It is not the producer or supplier.”

Suckler brand

At the virtual AGM, ICSA president Dermot Kelleher told the Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, to “drive on the campaign to develop a suckler beef brand”.

The ICSA president acknowledged that while it will “trial and error”, it has the potential to deliver increased returns for suckler farmers.

“We would not need handouts if our commodity was making money. Statistics are showing us the calving interval in this country was 400 days. If you break that down to 365 days, it is working out at 90c/kg in the price of a weanling.”

“Consumers must be told that top-class suckler beef is far superior to the by-product from dairy herds. We must tell consumers that if they want the real top food, it is grass-fed suckler beef.”

“A lot of people say to me that some consumers do not know what suckler beef is. I respond by saying: ‘Years ago people did not know what Coca-Cola was’”.

“Suckler beef needs to be pushed out there, and the consumer needs to be told you can get this superior hormone-free product, bred and fed in a regulated environment. I think a suckler brand will improve the price of suckler beef for suckler farmers.” ICSA president, Dermot Kelleher, concluded.

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