There is a “huge degree of resentment” around the “mysterious slide” in beef prices that occurred through February, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA).

The farming organisation estimates that the slide has cost farmers in the region of €8.5 million over just that month.

Commenting, ICMSA Livestock Committee chairman Des Morrison said that this episode now joins the “lengthening list of mysterious and unexplained sudden downwards turns in farmer beef prices”.

“Obviously, most attention is fixed on current prices and likely movements in the near term,” he said.

But that still leaves many of us no wiser as to what happened to prices over the four-week period through February when something of the order of €8.5 million was cut from the prices paid to farmers who were already losing money.

“We’ve never had any kind of rational explanation and that’s why ICMSA would like to take this opportunity to ask MII [Meat Industry Ireland] or any individual beef processor to explain what happened there?”

Morrison said that the lack of farmer confidence in the sector is “palpable” and had “reached the stage where the factories themselves must see that future year-round supplies are no longer guaranteed”.

He said that the lack of transparency or any kind of rational explanation for sudden and inexplicable price slides set against entirely predictable and comparable numbers meant that farmers’ suspicions had hardened into a general acceptance that factory prices were “set at the whim of executives always looking for a reason to cut”.

That is the suspicion – and the only way of allaying that is for the factories to explain their rationale and logic when they decide to cut as quickly and deeply as they did in the four weeks of February.

“That’s our challenge to MII or anyone else that wants to take it up,” the chairman said.

“We’re nearly three weeks on, so it must be clear now what the ‘chain of evidence’ was and whether it was justified. Let’s hear it. Because in our view that series of price cuts was not justified,” said Morrison.

On current trends, the chairman said that beef prices continue to move ahead in our main market with UK with steer prices now in and around 450c/kg.

Irish prices now need to move upwards to reflect market improvements and provide some level of short to medium-term confidence for beef producers, Morrison concluded.