‘Beef Plan 2018-2025’ blueprint calls for reform of farm unions

The farmers behind the draft Beef Plan 2018-2025 have called for a number of changes in a variety of areas in their wide-ranging 86-point plan – with the ultimate goal of establishing a farmer co-op abattoir long-term.

The proposed phases identify different aspects that need to be targeted, including: sustainable price and factories; animal health; purchasing groups; producer groups; farm safety; government schemes; farm unions; and abattoirs.

These incorporate the reform of key issues in the beef industry.

Farm unions

The authors of the Beef Plan – understood to be a group of farmers that are members of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) – call for a reform of “farm unions”, stressing the need for ensuring that such organisations effectively work in the best interests of the farmers they represent.

The farmers recommend that people who are not performing, or those that are counterproductive, should be easier to replace in such reforms through regular reviews. It also pushes for every farmer to become a member of a farm union.

Expanding past individual level, the group stresses the need to tackle “ineffective” organisations.

It stresses that if any farm organisation “no longer has the support of a significant number of farmers in a particular commodity then that organisation should no longer be exclusively involved in any negotiations involving that sector”.

Purchasing groups

The farmers have called for purchasing groups to be rolled out nationwide among farmers, with assistance from existing purchasing groups, while also “removing obstacles” to allow groups to purchase directly from manufacturers and importers.

The farmers have called for change in government schemes, including the Beef Data Genomics Programme (BDGP) and the Knowledge Transfer (KT) schemes.

The group proposes sending a list of changes that it believes needs to be made and, without a satisfactory response within a specified time, the group offers a plan to “go on strike” until satisfied.

Taking a look at the Knowledge Transfer (KT) programme in particular, the group says that, where a farmer’s only use of Teagasc is for the KT scheme, the €500 per farmer that Teagasc gets from the EU should be enough without Teagasc getting an additional figure from the farmers concerned.

Any government or farm organisation policy to reduce suckler cow numbers in favour of dairy expansion cannot be accepted, the plan states.

Farm safety is also highlighted as a key priority in the document.

Offering six points dedicated to farm safety, the beef farmers put forth suggestions such as an attractive retirement scheme for elderly beef producers and a farm safety workshop to be set up for farm children.

Producer groups

The beef farmer authors of the plan outline a number of options to build a producer group business, enlisting help from a working group established with contributions from the Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia and small abattoirs.

The plan proposes establishing brands, farm shops, and effective marketing both home and abroad, with a suggestion down the line of approaching a supermarket chain with view to partnership.

Farmer co-op abattoir

Depending on progress with producer groups, the Beef Plan proposes that a working group be put together as part of a longer-term plan to lease or buy an existing abattoir which would be run by a farmer co-operative.

This would then look at the possibility of building an abattoir long-term, the plan outlines.

The sheer job of implementing the plan “will require a serious policy change within our farm organisations and will require strong and brave leadership”, the plan’s authors contend.

The plan is seen as a draft that can be adjusted and added to as circumstances change.