Part-time suckler farmers have enough change to deal with in managing new schemes and policy without being told the breeding value of their herd has changed dramatically overnight.

Just because the cost base changed by 47% since the index was last updated shouldn’t mean immediate and significant change in the breeding value of a herd. It might well be a factor, and the cost changes might well be the truth, but farmers don’t get in and out of farming during high cost years.

It’s a journey. Yes, by all means give the facts on costs and the implications, but manage the impact of cost spikes by rolling averages or adjustment.

ICBF chief executive Sean Coughlan was in Donegal last week and he very clearly described the breakdown of Donegal suckler farms – over 2,000 suckler herds in Donegal with less than 10 cows.


Feed cost is not the major determinant of profit on these farms. Rough grazing is in abundance.

That is where the suckler wins over other systems. On paper ‘higher costs’ might be the profit driver of an economic model, but reality is region specific.

Think about it. The majority of these herds have invested significantly in a stock bull. Rightly or wrongly, a combination of figures and looks informed the decision.

For small businesses at this scale, change takes time or else they are forced to the cliff edge and they walk away from farming.


The ICBF has been critical of coverage of this issue, but that simply is attempting to shoot the messenger. The current row isn’t about one star versus five star. Firstly, the fact is we see a predominance of one breed rising to the top of the index.

If an index is set up right, farmers should be advised to use the best sires rather than selecting within breed.

Secondly, there was a mistake in the genetic evaluation run giving the Dexter the gold medal over the Charolais breed. That wasn’t bad PR, that was a fact. Admit it and move on.

Thirdly, many farmers had signed up to SCEP thresholds for five years and then the goalposts changed. Farmers felt betrayed.

A lot of farmers have a lot of time for ICBF and ultimately, ICBF is making decisions using a database and that is what we want.


However, we need to bring farmers on the journey. Finally, fast-tracking a flawed futuristic carbon policy into low margin, grass-based farming while at the same time, as a society, we are burning fossil fuels for a night out in Manchester is unbalanced, unfair and completely flawed logic. We need balance.