Beef Plan Group: ‘Farm unions failing to tackle the core issue’

Farmers behind a new splinter group of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) say the faction formed in light of farm unions failing to establish a tenable plan for the beef sector.

The core members of the recently-formed body – called the ‘Beef Plan Group‘ – have been involved in a producer and purchaser group together for the last three years.

However, due to frustration over cattle prices remaining well below production costs, the group decided to take action into their own hands.

Over the last three months the group – which claims to have more than 400 members from across the country – drafted a new beef plan entitled ‘Beef Plan 2018-2025’

The blueprint of the document – which was published last week – proposes 86 points across eight phases to address the issues of unsustainable farming and low prices.

Also Read: Farmers confront meat industry with 86-point draft beef plan

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.

Group Formation

Speaking to AgriLand, Eamon Corley, the spokesperson for the group and current livestock chair of Meath IFA, outlined the reasons behind its formation.

“The way it seems to us is that it doesn’t matter what we do; as beef farmers we have no power and the meat factories have all the control as regards setting the price of cattle.

That is the real problem and on top of that there doesn’t seem to be anybody tackling it.

“That’s something that we have put into phase one of our plan as the most important issue. We see all other issues, such as a premium for the suckler cow, as side issues because regardless of what we get for our suckler cow they take it back by cutting the price.

“The most important thing for beef farmers that we see is that they get paid their production cost, plus a margin.

“We feel there is enough room in the retail price of beef for that to happen. There is no need for us to be underpaid the way we are,” he said, claiming that up to 50 new members joined the group in the last 24 hours.

On the formation of the new entity, Corley stated that although quite a number of those involved are members of the IFA; they are “not all exclusively” members of the farm lobby group.

“We’re taking in all farmers involved in beef in anyway, be it suckler-bred beef, or dairy-bred beef, or people producing stores.

We’d hope that the IFA will get behind our plan and we are trying hard for that to happen. But we’re also willing to look at other alternatives if the IFA says it is not willing to back our plan.

He is of the opinion that farm unions have floundered to deliver meaningful results for beef producers over the years.

“There hasn’t been a protest for beef in two or three years at this stage and, whether we like it or not, the IFA and farm unions, for some reason, don’t seem to have tackled the core of the problem which is the cost production price for our produce.

“They keep going on about markets, saying ‘you can’t expect to get more than the market’. But we feel the same as any other farmer, where one factory group seems to be able to set the price and all other factories follow.

“Farmers are seeing what we are doing as make or break – that’s how serious it is,” he said.

Industry Battle

He also raised concerns over farmers “being forced” into contract rearing cattle for factories.

“We basically see that as farmers selling their souls to these factories. There are a lot of yards in Ireland that are contract rearing for factories rather than farmers having total control themselves – we see this as a threat to farming as we know it.

We think there is a big push from the meat industry now to actually control our farms and that is the big worry.

He said members of the new group had been considering forming a new alliance for many years.

“I personally have asked three former presidents of IFA for a plan for beef and none of them were able to produce one, so it was out of desperation that I said ‘these guys are never going to do anything’.

“We’re at a loss to know why there has been no action and why they haven’t attacked what we see as the root of the problem. Different farmers have different ideas.

“The meat industry is a powerful industry; maybe they just thought it was a battle they couldn’t win,” said Corley.

Beef protests

The Beef Plan Group is expected to meet with Joe Healy, president of the IFA, Damien McDonald, director general of the IFA and Angus Woods, national chairman of the IFA’s Livestock Committee this Friday (October 5).

We are certainly going to make every effort to try and get the IFA involved in this; but there will probably have to be some change on their behalf on their way of doing things.

Corley also intends to attend tomorrow’s (October 3) farmer protest outside Agriculture House in Dublin where the 12th Beef Roundtable is set to get underway.

Yesterday, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) also confirmed intentions not to attend the event in light of the farmer picket line.

The Beef Roundtable was established in April 2014 in order to facilitate open discussion between industry and farming organisations on the strategic path for the beef sector over the coming years.

“To be honest, the way I feel about it, we know there is a bad situation in beef, but we perhaps feel that our plan also helped prompt these protests.

There is nothing wrong with the protests; but I just hope they’re for the right reason.

For those looking to get in touch with the Beef Plan Group, spokesperson Eamon Corley can be contacted by phone on: 086-2228246 or via email at: [email protected]