Letter to the editor: ‘A year ago today, I decided that enough was enough…’

A year ago today, I decided that enough was enough. €3/kg [for beef] was staring us in the face and the age profile of our farmers was rising.

We had no choice but to make a stand. Beef Plan stood out on the road with guts and said: ‘We will do what all the others were afraid to do.’

We stood up. We took the fight to the roads. We marched up and down in peaceful protest.

What was a peaceful protest? No one knew. We managed…in conjunction with agreed rules. We managed it by the skin of our teeth.

We rocked them. Numbers grew daily. Days were long and sometimes lonesome. Evenings drew crowds and night time drew more. The night shift was long and lonely at times, but not in the tents or the trailers.

We were together. We learned a lot. We learned the fridges weren’t full of meat. We learned that they did everything and anything to get cattle in to keep the kill going. We learned our cattle were wanted, but only at their price.

Other farm organisations stood and watched – waiting for us to fail. They had too much to lose; their gravy train couldn’t be jeopardised.

We learned that the Gardaí [that we met] were nearly all farmers’ sons or daughters…or were only one generation away from the land. They knew what we were going through.

We learned that the meat industry had an ugly side – money, flexing of muscles, legal jargon and injunctions to beat down a broken farmer. That failed; it simply drew more to the ranks. Numbers swelled beyond belief.

Now this beast wasn’t going to stop. The minister started to recognise us…but the pressure was immense.

Finally; we had a voice. There were round-table talks; 14 key points were delivered. Price had been the ‘buzz word’, but no one was allowed to utter this, let alone discuss it. Producer Organisation [PO] became the new ‘buzz word’.

Thus, the Beef Market Taskforce was established.

Beef Plan began a representative process; it was time to come off the roads.

The taskforce was blocked but later reconvened. Michael Dowling – seen as a fair broker – was to head it up.

Was it all worth it? The answer is yes; we shook things up.

Beef Plan can’t claim all of the victories, but we can claim to have begun the process. We started it. We shook this billion-euro industry to its core.

Along the way, we cooked a million sausages, started many bonfires and drank countless cups of tea. We found our voice…and we learned that a ‘golden circle’ of feedlots are looked after.

We found that factories don’t always tell us the truth. But most frustratingly, we found out that unity is hard to find.

‘A year for farmers’

2019 was the year of Beef Plan; 2020 is most certainly the year of Covid-19. 2021 will be the year for the primary producer.

The tide is turning. Sell hard now. Support the marts and the fat stock sales. Stand up…and hold your heads up again.

We thank our Gardaí for their positive engagements and interactions during the protests.

We thank Minister Michael Creed for his stewardship during an especially difficult time…and his foresight to recognise Beef Plan Movement as a significant player.

We thank him for giving frustrated grassroot beef farmers – the foundation of the movement – a voice as equal stakeholders.

Without grassroot beef farmers the supply chain, and the whole industry, would collapse.

From a beef farmer (name not published)