Factory beef price cuts and specifications changes are eroding confidence in the beef sector, especially in winter finishing. This is according to the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), which is set to protest outside the Department of Agriculture next week.

IFA president Eddie Downey said the move by the factories to hit prime in-spec steers and heifers with new price and weight cuts this week, following its meeting with Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, was a step too far and shows scant disregard for both the minister and farmer suppliers.

Announcing details of a planned beef farmers’ protest at the Department of Agriculture in Dublin next Tuesday, 4 March, Downey said farmer anger and frustration with the beef cuts was boiling over and winter finishers cannot endure any more losses.

“The time has come for Minister Coveney to stand up for farmers and reject the factories’ tactics. The minister must insist that stability and confidence are restored to the beef sector,” he said.

Downey said Minister Coveney must also tackle the lack of competition in the beef sector and take action to close the large price gap between Irish beef prices and those in our main export market in Great Britain.

“The IFA has worked hard to secure a new ferry route for live cattle to the UK. The minister must remove the artificial blockages preventing the expansion of the live trade, including the labelling difficulties. This is a market access issue preventing the operation of the EU single market.”

In addition, the IFA said farmers are concerned that factories are being allowed use the Department of Agriculture AIMS database to monitor livestock numbers on individual farmers.

“We want a guarantee from the minister that the AIMS system is absolutely confidential and factories do not have access to the herd profile of individual farmers.

The IFA president said the collapse in bull beef prices since last December has inflicted severe losses on winter finishers and seriously eroded confidence and morale across the beef sector.

“Some bull beef finishers are taking a financial hit of €200 to €300 per head and struggling to get cattle killed before more severe price and spec cuts are applied. Income losses at finishing level will also impact on store and weanling producers,” he said.

The IFA president stressed the factories and their supermarket clients cannot change the goalposts with new specifications in the middle of the production season. He said farmers calving cows or buying cattle this spring are at a loss as to the direction they should take.