Beef farmers need €5 per kilo was the blunt message from ICSA Chief Executive Eddie Punch as he left today’s Beef Forum meeting in Dublin.

“The €5 kilo price is the minimum return farmers need if they are to meet the quality assurance criteria with a built-in carcass weight limit than 380 kilos. If the plants were to accept a more general specification, then €4 per kilo might be a runner.”

Eddie Punch also pointed out that the issue of improving farm efficiency levels is currently a sideshow, when compared with the absolute necessity for beef finishers to receive realistic prices for the cattle they are bringing to market.

While not wishing to characterise today’s meeting of the Beef Forum as a ‘talking shop’ he did confirm that the expectation levels of the ICSA had dropped regarding the ability of the grouping to deliver real and positive change on behalf of livestock farmers.

“We asked the plants and Bord Bía repeatedly to confirm the percentage of cattle currently receiving the farm quality assurance top ups. It was a question that we could not get a direct answer to. Telling us that 87% of farms are quality assured is a meaningless statistic given the changes that have been introduced by the redmeat industry to the actual beef classification schemes now operating.

“We know that cows, young bulls, cattle over 30 months of age and animals killing out over 380 kilos are excluded from the quality assurance scheme. So it shouldn’t take that much number crunching from the relevant authorities to tell us what percentage of the cattle kill is currently qualifying for the quality assured bonus!”

He said he also believes that the idea of introducing producer group contracts, which was proposed at today’s meeting of the Beef Forum, does not have legs. “Such an arrangement will only benefit bigger finishers, to the detriment of the average farmer,” he commented.

Reflecting on the overall impact of today’s forum meeting, he concluded:

“Yes there is a role to be played by the likes of Teagasc, ICBF and Animal Health Ireland in helping to plot a sustainable course for the beef industry. But given the tenor of today’s discussion the Forum is in danger of overlooking the real elephant in the room. And this is the parlous state of farmgate beef prices. And until this issue is faced up to, there is a real danger of the Beef Forum becoming no more than a talking shop!”