Ireland would profit from opting out of beef, says expert

Prof Alan Matthews says most beef farms are not financially viable without EU subsidies

Ireland would be financially better off getting out of beef farming and transferring large tracts of land over to forestry, according to one of the State’s leading agricultural experts.

Prof Alan Matthews, professor emeritus of European agricultural policy at Trinity College, said most beef farms in Ireland are not financially viable without EU subsidies.

He was speaking at a conference on smart agriculture in Dublin hosted by the Institute of International and European Affairs.

Citing Teagasc figures on farm income, Prof Matthews said the average single suckling enterprise, the most common cattle operation in Ireland, generated a negative net margin of €122 per hectare last year. For cattle finishing operations, the margins were even worse, he noted.


Greenhouse gases

Without subsidies from Brussels, which average about €400 per hectare, Prof Matthews said these farms “could not continue”.

“If you were to add in the additional costs of greenhouse gases those net margins would be even more negative,” he said. “This really makes you wonder, is this not a cheap abatement option?”

Prof Matthews said separate figures showed there were positive returns for farmers who chose to switch over to forestry. Despite this, he said the rate of forest planting, which had the added benefit of helping Ireland meet its emissions targets, have been falling.

He said the switch to forestry was not being taken up because of competition from other forms of agriculture, which were not being charged for their emissions.

The beef sector is one of the single biggest components of Irish agriculture, accounting for 30 per cent of gross output, and worth more than €2 billion to the economy.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times