Factories, live exports and marts don’t do farmers justice
Trust between beef producers and the main processors appears to be at an all-time low. Producers appear to be completely disillusioned with the beef processors regular failure to pay what is considered a fair price.
This begs the question – why keep supplying them?
If, as is alleged by some, our beef factories are controlling prices, or as one politician unfortunately described it as ‘leading an attack on rural Ireland’, then is it not possible for beef producers to organise themselves to process their own beef? They can then pay themselves what they want for the product.
If you do what you have always done, you will get what you’ve always got. Beef producers have a simple choice to make – carry on supplying the processors as they do now (with ongoing bouts of dissatisfaction about the price received) or, alternatively, pledge to be brave, innovative and market led, and process the beef themselves. It seems to work pretty well in the dairy industry despite the volatility of the global market.
It amazes me that the most imaginative alternative to supplying the existing processors we can come up with is the live export of young cattle. While, on the one hand, aggressively promoting our green image and quality food production around the globe, we continue to ship our raw material out of the country allowing other economies to collect the value added. It would be almost comical if it weren’t a national scandal.
Imagine the raised eyebrows if our milk lorries drove direct to the ferry ports so that our milk could be processed in the UK or France creating jobs and value added for those economies instead of our own. Perhaps I am missing something but is this not what our farm organisations are encouraging with beef all the time?
Is it not a terribly short-sighted solution to a problem that requires a long-term visionary solution? The beef industry must be in an appalling mess, and truly devoid of much strategic thinking if live export is championed as the only alternative to supplying our existing processors.
In addition, our culture of trading animals through our numerous livestock marts seems to be a long way removed from the sophisticated marketing image that we strive to portray. Many customers at the mart are speculating on ‘having a good day’ or ‘making a few pound’ and perhaps not too concerned about satisfying a growing global demand for Irish beef.
For every farmer or dealer who declares a ‘good day at the mart’ it follows that there must be one on the receiving end who is smarting, who feels hard done by, who goes home feeling negative about the industry. The mart culture, while providing a valuable social outlet for many producers, does very little to encourage stable, measurable production systems at farm level. While many dealers and speculators may thrive on the system, I wonder does it ultimately deliver much value added to the small family farm that we are apparently trying to protect?
Nowadays, we have lots of outlets for gambling and speculation in society. If we aspire to having a focussed, consumer driven beef industry, I don’t believe the mart should be among them. I think our industry deserves more respect than that.
Is it naive to visualise all our beef leaving the country in a transparent display package, ready for the supermarket shelf, with a shamrock or other Irish insignia on it? How much value added and job creation would that provide as compared to what we have now?