Beef from the dairy herd is as good a quality as beef from the suckler herd, according to the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) John Comer.

Comer made the comments in his address to the association’s annual general meeting in Limerick today.

People have finally woken up to the fact that the grades achieved by cattle are dis-improving, the president explained.

I deliberately use the word ‘grades’ because some people choose to use the word ‘quality’, which is totally misleading. Beef from the dairy herd is as good quality as beef from the suckler herd and those who say otherwise are misleading people.

“The ‘Beef Grid’ has played a considerable negative role in relation to grades and its dwindling number of promoters need to recognise this and amend it accordingly.

“The ICMSA published a report on the Beef Grid in 2016 that set out a loss of up to €80 million between 2011 and 2015. A year later – and despite promises to do so – nobody has provided us with figures to contradict this view.

Farmers have lost out under this grid; it is simply over-complicated and was deliberately designed that way – it needs to be reformed,” he said.

Profitability in the beef sector

Meanwhile, profitability still remains a key challenge for the beef sector, according to Comer. Despite increased numbers this year, lower carcass weights have helped to maintain prices at 2016 levels, he added.

“The free trade agreement with Japan is welcome and improving access to other markets must continue – and we need to see the Chinese market open for Irish beef.

However, we need to see a continuous emphasis on live exports. In the context of the further concentration at processor level in the beef industry, live exports are the only insurance policy that farmers have.

The president of the ICMSA is of the opinion that dedicated units are needed within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Bord Bia – with ring fenced budgets – to drive the live export agenda.

“The availability of shipping facilities for calves next spring is an immediate priority that must be addressed given the critical importance of this trade to dairy farmers and a concerted effort is needed in 2018 to deliver additional live export markets for heavier cattle,” Comer added.

Mercosur deal: ‘Utter madness’

During his address, Comer described the “current drive” to finalise a Mercosur deal as “utter madness” in the current environment.

“Come spring 2019, we may need a new home for 320,000t of beef that is currently sold in the UK. Why would the EU even contemplate offering at least 70,000t of beef to the Mercosur countries to conclude a deal?

Many of the trade deals proposed by the EU are questionable, but to be seriously considering such a deal at present is just outright reckless.

Comer believes that the Irish government needs to “up their game on this matter” and not to allow Ireland be “rail-roaded on Mercosur”.