Opinion

Beef crisis is not our fault, say factories, beef farmers aren’t efficient enough

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has laid the blame for the current beef crisis firmly at the door of beef farmers.

In its long-awaited response to the Dowling Report on the beef industry, MII says that record beef prices of the past few years did not translate into record farmer margins in the beef sector – due to a combination of high input prices (livestock, feed and fertiliser) and lack of efficiency gains in the sector. In other words, a lack of efficiency among farmers is to blame for their loss-making enterprises.

Pointing the finger of blame directly at beef farmers, it goes on to say that adoption of the technologies recommended by, in particular, Teagasc and the ICBF, would help in delivering a more efficient and profitable beef farming sector into the future.

And it claps itself on the back for a job well done, saying that farmers should not, in the midst of the current low prices, forget that the factories have been increasing beef prices. “While the beef sector is currently experiencing some downward price pressure, prices have been increasing continuously over the last four years.”

Teagasc recently said that a minimum price of €4.40/kg is needed for farmers to earn a viable living from beef finishers. It also said that just 35% of farms were viable last year – and those 35% were not beef farmers. At this summers Teagasc Beef 2014 event it was clearly presented that even the most efficient farmers in the top 10% struggle to make ends meat at current price levels.

The statement is a slap in the face for beef farmers and one that should prompt the IFA and other farming organisations that rely on the meat factories to collect their levies to stop this practise. To have factories collecting levies on behalf of organisations that are supposed to independently represent farmers is a clear conflict of interest. It renders such organisation incapable of independent and strong lobbying, which has been clearly obvious in the lack of appetite shown by the IFA to protest outside the processors.

Farmers and farming organisations need to realise once and for all that the factories are not their friends. However, the factories must also realise that they are slowly, but surely killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Farmers should not continue to work to produce cattle at a loss.

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