Minister and farm organisations must take action after beef summit

Yesterday’s meeting of the Beef Summit roundtable update was a non-event. A 13-page report was presented by Michael Dowling, reviewing progress toward the Beef Activation Group targets and recommendations for the beef sector arising from Horizon 2020, and his take on the recent difficulties in the sector. 

There is nothing wrong with his report, except for one glaring issue – it simply just doesn’t go far enough.

Farmers are not getting a fair deal when it comes to beef prices. The latest Teagasc figures on farm incomes clearly show this. Sheep and beef farmers are at the be behest of the meat factories and no one seems too bothered by it. All the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney had to say afterwards, was that it is through active engagement by all stakeholders that issues can be resolved and that positive relationships must be built.

Michael Dowling’s report at the Beef Summit update this week focused on the ambitions and targets of the sector. Yes, we’re well on the way to meeting the Food Harvest 2020 targets, however, the bottom line is that beef farmers are not making money. Why not? Because they are being paid a price, by the factories, that is less than it takes to rear cattle.

One area, he says, must be improved is the communication from processors as to the type of animal they want and the price they will pay for it. This for many, is the crux of the problem. Dowling’s Beef Summit report goes on to say that processors should not just be more proactive in getting information to farmers, but this information needs to be more comprehensive and include more information on what prevents animals getting the maximum payment. In other words, processors should give clearer information and base payments around an incentive-based scheme.

However, as can be seen from our analysis of beef prices paid over the past few weeks here, clear information around cattle prices in this country is a misnomer. The ICSA has repeatedly asked for numbers around the quantity of animals receiving the farm quality assurance bonus, to no avail – no one seems to have these numbers or wants to reveal them.

At the end of the day, much of the responsibility for the price farmers are receiving for the cattle from factories must lie with farming organisations. Farmers pay their subs to be represented and have fairs deals negotiated on their behalf.

However, it’s difficult to bite the hand that feeds you and as long as farming organisations continue to use the factories as a method to collect levies they hold no real clout with the processors.

As some of the beef processors make it into the richest lists of Irish people, beef farmers income remain on the floor. It seems someone is making a lot of money from the beef industry in this country and it’s not the farmer.

The sooner the Minister for Agriculture sees that beef farmers incomes are simply unsusttainable the better for all concerned, or there won’t be a viable suckler herd or beef supply.

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