Opinion

Protests fail to deliver on beef price, but negotiations a step in right direction

With a Competition Authority diktat ensuring beef prices were off the table for yesterday’s round of beef forum talks, there was always going to be a sense of anti-climax no matter what the result.

The negotiations will, however, leave the IFA with much to mull over. With no direct movement on price last night, will the concessions gained be enough to allay the obvious frustration of the farmers that took part in its beef blockade? Furthermore, the IFA needs to question its overall strategy on the beef issue and what it has, or has not, delivered for farmers.

Despite holding two protests, most notably a 48-hour protest earlier this week, based around the €350 price gap difference between what Irish and UK beef farmers are receiving, the protests failed to achieve their main goal – to get a price increase for farmers.

The meeting between the IFA and the processors, last Friday, went a long way towards achieving most of the terms which were finalised at last night’s beef forum. Yet, the IFA left constructive negotiations and, instead, took to the factory gates for 48-hours to look for a beef price rise. The protest achieved nothing except some short-term publicity, which will be forgotten by the weekend.

There is a time and a place for protesting and this week was not it. Any protest over the price of beef should have taken place when prices were beginning to slide, 12 months ago, not as they begin to rise again. The factories have not (marginally) increased the price of beef in recent weeks because of anyone protesting outside their gates.

Meanwhile, back at the negotiation table last night, significant progress was made in relation to specifications and, in particular, the penalties on over 30-month cattle being removed until January 2016. Negotiations with beef customers that a 36-month age limit is not necessary, are also to be welcomed. And, more importantly for farmers, a price incentive for Quality Assurance will come into play from January.

The other significant point agreed upon is on residency, with clarification and harmonisation to be addressed by all parties.

However, the real nugget will be whether tools to increase price transparency actually work. If they work, as outlined, farmers will be able to see what type of animal can achieve what price – based on different beef categories on the main markets served by Irish product. But, as they say, the devil is in the detail and how transparent that will be remains to be seen, but it needs to be very clear that farmers know, well in advance, what type of cattle certain markets want and how much they will get paid for these cattle.

Let’s hope this is a step towards farmers getting a better price for their produce. Basic economics dictate that the marketplace will set the price and to get a premium price for beef we need to be selling a product marketed as premium beef. Whether the middlemen – retailers and processors – pass on margins will only be obvious if full transparency is available to producers.

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