Calleary interview: Beef producer groups to play a role in ‘building margins and confidence’

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dara Calleary sees an important role for producer groups in building margins and confidence across the beef sector.

In his first ministerial sit-down interview with a farming news outlet, newly-appointed Minister Calleary touched on key issues within the beef sector – in conversation with AgriLand editor Jim Breen and news journalist Sylvester Phelan.

Speaking to AgriLand on Tuesday, July 21, the new minister discussed his vision for the viability of smaller beef farms, the need for ambition in the sector and the potential consumer demand that could be tapped into.

A cursory look at the recent Teagasc Farm Income Survey suggests that many smaller beef farm enterprises are ‘not viable’ – certainly not without support payments. Is it better – economically or ideologically – to support a smaller number of enterprises that are viable and sustainable long-term?

I don’t think it’s a straight choice like that. I think that there absolutely is a role for the smaller suckler farmers. They have a connection to the communities and they have a connection to the market.

It’s [about] how we enhance that role. There are going to have to be more supports for smaller farms. We have to recognise they have a role in terms of community sustainability and community support.

We have a window now in terms of the new CAP preparation [phase] to look at how we do that and how we support that sector. That’s an ambitious sector and they have an ambition.

I hate this portrayal of them as small and unviable. I hate this portrayal that unviable means they are not relevant. They have a role to play. People and consumers are now wanting to know where their food is coming from; they are beginning to come back locally again.

That particular smaller producer sector has an important role to play in answering that demand.

It’s [also] an area that is potentially higher-margin.

The producer groups are going to play a very important role in building up the margins and confidence of that sector. They will also say to people: ‘This is a sector that’s very important and a sector that’s going to answer that market need.’ I’m really excited about [producer groups].

There are currently two [large-scale, cross-breed] beef producer groups in the country. Do you intend to provide more support or guidance for these and further producer groups?

It’s something that I am personally interested in to see how we do them, to see how we get them up running and to see how they are sustainable. There’s no sense in throwing them up everywhere and, then, for them to fall apart.

We need to make sure they are sustainable. People, thankfully, are getting a little bit more local again; people like to see where their food is coming from. Producer groups will play a part in that. I believe in the concept of ‘meitheal’ – in as much as we can to get people working together or working collectively.

Producer groups are really ‘meitheal’ in operation, in terms of commerce and in terms of beef production. In terms of standards as well – if they’re working collectively and collaboratively – we get a better product.

If they are learning from each other, we improve our game. If they’re working collectively and collaboratively, those that are buying off them can’t pick them apart and give you a price and [someone else] a different price.

I think it’s a win-win all round.