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Dernière mise à jour : Mai 2018

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Beef production in Ireland

General elements

IE figure 37

Agriculture, and more specifically cattle breeding, is important for the Irish economy. Ireland was the 6th European producer with 588.4 thousand T cwe of beef in 2016. It is one of the few European countries (alongside Spain and Poland) with an upward trend in beef production since 1980 (+30%). The production increased mostly between the 1980s and 2000s and has only increased by 2% since 2000 (figure 37).

IE figure 38

Ireland produced 7.54% of the EU beef production in 2016. Steers, slaughtered between 24 and 30 month old (GEB-IDELE 2013b), remains the main production in 2016 despite a decreased by 25% since 2000 (steers accounted for 53% of slaughters in 2000 vs. 38% in 2016) (figure 38). It has gradually been replaced by young bulls (3.8% of slaughters in 2000 vs. 15% in 2016) (Eurostat 2017). Young bulls have a better profitability due to a shorter cycle of production (young bulls being slaughtered at 18mo) and a fattening diet based on pasture grass with concentrate complementation. The share of females in slaughters has remained stable with 28% of heifers and 19% of cull cows. Heifers are fattened on diets based on pasture grass without complementation.

Foreign exchanges in Ireland

The 4.8 million inhabitant of Ireland in 2016 consumed 19 kg cwe each (FranceAgriMer 2017). Thus, most of the Irish beef production is exported: in 2016, it represented 93% of the production with 548.6 T cwe (+20% since 2009) (figure 39) mainly towards the United Kingdom (55%, France (11%) and the Netherlands (9%) (figure 40). Therefore, Ireland is the first European exporter (before Poland and Germany) and the 5th largest exporter in the world.

IE figure 39

The increase in exports can be linked to the Irish government’s plans: Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025.Irish agricultural strategy now focus on “high quality” meat on the EU beef market with grass based production from Anglo-Saxon breeds, as intended by the Origin Green program. All those programs aims to increasing Irish agricultural productions and exports and to promoting Irish products worldwide as well as ensuring farms durability (economic, environmental,…).

IE figure 40

Live exports is marginal in Ireland with 91 500 heads exported in 2016, excluding animals for breeding, and has experienced a decreased by 60% since 2010.

Irish imports are very low with only 32.5 thousands T cwe of beef and 5,600 live animals in 2016 (FranceAgriMer 2017).

Typology of Irish herd

Ireland benefits from its oceanic climate and plentiful precipitation throughout the year allowing for a long grass-growing season from February to the end of November with on average 15 T of dry matter per hectare (vs. 11 T of dry matter on average in the EU). As grass accounts for 80% of the Irish utilized agricultural area (vs. 40% in average in the EU), its production systems diet are grass based (Walsh 2016) (Figure 41).

IE figure 41

With 6.6 million heads (+13.5% since 1980), Ireland owns the 4th European cattle herd (figure 42). The dairy herd held almost 1.3 million dairy cows while the suckling herd has slightly more than 1 million beef cows. The specialized beef herd has been multiplied by 2.6% between 1980s and 1990s but has decreased by 13% since the late 1990s.

IE figure 42
IE figure 43

The dairy herd has experienced a structural decreased until 2010. The government driven rise of 30% since 2010 was in anticipation of the 2015 ending of milk quotas. The dairy cattle herd is mainly located in the south (70%) while the suckling herd is located in the north-west with less favorable climatic conditions (figure 44 and 45).

IE figure 44
IE figure 45

Almost 90% of the 18 000 Irish dairy farms are specialized for milk production and 75% of dairy cows are owned by farms with more than 50 cows. Calving occurs at the end of winter, beginning of spring in order to take advantage of the grass growth during early lactation. In 2013, 95% of the dairy cows were from Holstein breeds. Yet, cross-breeding is frequent with almost 1/3 of the dairy cows inseminated with beef breads (GEB-IDELE 2013b).

78,000 of the 79,000 beef farms are specialized and held 79% of the suckling cows as well as 61% of males between 1 and 2 yo and 72% of males over 2 yo. In 2013, the average farm owned 31 LU on 28 ha, with 46% of the farms owning less than 20 ha and only 12% with more than 50 ha (GEB-IDELE 2013b).

According to the Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) base, 25% of replacement heifers for the suckling herd are beef / dairy crossbreeds from dairy farms. Among the remaining replacement heifers, 61% are crossbreeds between different beef breeds.

Different types of production systems from the suckling herd were classified by Walsh (2016):

-          Cow-calf systems producing weanlings sold at 8mo;

-          Cow-calf systems producing weanlings sold at 1.5yo;

-          Breeder – fattener systems;

-          Fatteners;

-          Mixed systems;

-          Meat producers from dairy herds.

The 5 main breed used for the suckling herd are: Charolaise, Angus, Limousine, Hereford and Simmental (Walsh 2016).