C&D Foods: Local farmers discuss Goodman impact in midst of beef crisis

Farmers in Co. Longford have, this week, highlighted a number of concerns to AgriLand about the beef industry in the aftermath of businessman Larry Goodman’s takeover of C&D Foods in Edgeworthstown.

Last week, Goodman’s ABP Food Group Ltd (ABP) took control of the large-scale pet food manufacturing company after it purchased CEO, Philip Reynolds’ remaining 15% shareholding.

ABP already had an 85% stake in the business after buying 50% in 2008 and acquiring a further 35% in 2011.

Beef farming

Paul Ross and Sean Hannon are beef farmers. They both farm close to Edgeworthstown and have seen, first hand, the positive impact C&D Foods has had on the local economy and in the community.

However, Goodman’s role in the Irish beef industry and his control over yet another entity within the sector has given these two local farmers definite cause to ponder.

“Goodman seems to be able to gobble up all the smaller industries and as a result of that he has become very powerful,” said Hannon, who went from dairy farming for most of his life to the beef side of things just two years ago.

Beef is the poor relation of any farming; there is no support for anyone involved in beef farming.

He added: “I was a board member of Lakeland Dairies and the support that the dairy men get from their co-op is unbelievable. Beef farmers go to the factory with their cattle, and to be honest with you, you could leave the cattle at the gate and walk away.

“We have no rapport with the factories at all. The factories should be more involved with the farming community – but, then maybe it suits them to keep the farmers at arm’s length.”

Hannon went on to say that the more business interests Goodman takes up, the more isolated farmers are becoming from him.

“That is why we feel we don’t have a rapport with the beef factories and that really is a pity; they could do a lot more for farmers.

“When we had a fodder shortage last spring, the co-ops were out day and night supporting their farmers – what did the factories do? I think that was an opportunity lost by the factories, to be honest,” he said.

‘Super power’

Ross, meanwhile, pointed out that while co-ops have a vested interest “in the lifeblood of the farmer” – factories do not.

“It’s all about bottom-line margins with the factories.

The concerns one might have with ABP buying out C&D now, is that effectively another company is buying product from meat factories.

“We also have a situation where a single company has control of one of the biggest cat and dog food markets in Europe,” he said.

Ross went on to highlight that C&D Foods under ABP is now a €500 million company. For Ross, the acquisition raises further questions over the dominance that exists within the beef industry.

He continued: “Philip Reynolds has been quoted as saying that he needed the investment from ABP to help C&D become more sustainable across Europe.

“But, the reality is that ABP has become a super-power within the industry and is quite prepared to buy everyone else out, in order to achieve that dominance and control over a lot of different aspects of the beef industry.”

Offal

The Longford suckler and beef farmer went on to say that offal was another product that often came up in conversation and was an area in which “Goodman appears to have a huge stake – both in the UK and Ireland”.

“Cat and dog food is a by product of the meat industry and now Goodman is one of the biggest players in Europe.

Things like this are disturbing really – especially in light of a beef crisis.

“Farmers are loosing money hand over fist, and the reality is, the beef industry has no respect for farmers and this is leading to such frustration,” he said.

Hannon says that if a decent price isn’t soon offered for beef, “the industry is finished”.

“A farmer spends his days looking after his stock and expects to get a return on his investment.

“Just the other night when the UK voted on Brexit, cattle price went down 10-15c/kg overnight – how do you justify that?” he asked.

Hannon added that he is also “worried” about the number of calves, particularly beef calves, that are coming onto the market.

If we lose the suckler cow, we may say ‘goodnight’ to the whole beef industry.

“They are the backbone, particularly in the west of Ireland and other parts of the country where land isn’t as suitable to dairying. If the beef cow number drops they won’t grade when they are brought to the factory,” Hannon said.

Rules and regulations

Ross, meanwhile, pointed out that regulations within the industry were also causing problems.

“There are so many rules and regulations now and farmers just don’t understand them. The over-age rule has been well discussed – but, the huge difference in price between 30 months and 31 months is really frustrating farmers,” he continued.

He went on to say that ‘movement’ of animal rules is also causing difficulties – as is the transportation of offal.

If the animal has more than four movements it loses its quality assurance bonus.

He added: “What’s happening is that some factories pay on the fourth movement and some don’t. There is also an issue now with the transport of offal – it can only be brought to a processor within a 100km range.

“It’s these sorts of things that are causing frustration – farmers can’t figure out why rules and regulations like these are in place, or, why nothing is being done about them.

It’s all of this that is leading to the illusion that a big conglomerate is there controlling everything.

Ross also pointed out that nearly 20 years ago farmers “fought in Ballymahon” for a base price of no less than 90p/lb.

It was a national campaign, he added, that “ultimately succeeded”.

“The beef industry is a loss-making industry; all a farmer wants is a fair return on his investment, that’s all,” he concluded.

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