The first stand at the open day, day, Securing your future in beef farming, will focus on the key issues influencing the current direction of the beef farming sector.

Clearly, the sector has undergone profound change in the past decade with a substantial increase in the number of dairy-beef cattle coinciding with a reduction in the number of suckler cows.

At farm level, the key principles underpinning profitable farm systems are largely the same for both systems. In essence, the objective is to generate high levels of beef output from a predominantly grazed grass diet while maximising the contribution to ecosystems services such as high levels of biodiversity, ‘good status’ for water bodies and low greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the high proportion of beef farmers with off-farm employment, an additional critical factor influencing farm level decision making on beef farms is the impact on the labour requirement.

Teagasc Beef Virtual Week 2020.

Although beef production systems are characterised nationally by low levels of farm profitability, recent research at Teagasc Grange has found that, by operating at higher stocking rates and achieving excellent animal performance, profitability for farms participating in demonstration farm programmes was more than double that of the national average.

Furthermore, much higher levels of profitability is possible by reaching all the key targets for reproductive and live weight performance, and maximising the proportion of lifetime gain from grazed pasture (Figure 1).

The environmental impact of human activity in all sectors of society is under much greater scrutiny than heretofore. With the global demand for beef continuing to grow and the consumer focus on ‘sustainable food choices’, Irish beef is in a strong position to remain attractive in key export markets.

Research in Teagasc is seeking to develop the technologies to further improve our competitive position in this regard – this research will be featured at BEEF2024.

Key factors underpinning viable and sustainable beef farming

The second stand at the open day will focus on the key factors underpinning viable and sustainable beef farming. Growing concern with climate change has resulted in proposals to further reduce national GHG emissions.

The beef sector can contribute to meeting these emission targets by increasing the biological efficiency of production systems, and reducing animal finishing age. Achieving high animal performance is essential if animals are to be finished younger. A major source of inefficiency in beef cattle production systems is failure to meet performance targets. In this regard, animal genetics, nutrition and health are key factors influencing the biological and economic efficiency of low-cost, grass-based beef systems.

Where key performance targets are not met, this has large negative ramifications for the profitability and environmental footprint of beef production systems. For both suckler and dairy-beef production systems increasing biological efficiency, increased profitability when expressed per animal and per hectare, and concurrently decreased GHG emissions per animal.

Suckler calf-to-beef

For example, for a spring-calving suckler calf-to-beef system these key efficiency factors include, cow age at first-calving, calves/cow/year, duration of calving interval, grazing season length and animal growth rate. Similarly, for suckler weanling-to-beef production systems and dairy calf-to-beef steer systems, increasing finishing age during the second winter and during the third grazing season resulted in reductions in profitability, and concurrent increases in GHG emissions per animal finished.

Overall, this inverse relationship implies that reducing GHG emissions to meet national climate targets is generally associated with greater profitability of grass-based beef production systems. The details of this analysis will be presented at BEEF2024.