Irish beef prices should start to strengthen over the coming weeks, according to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney.

He said this during an interview with Agriland on the second day of his visit to China, during which he is heading up an agri food trade delegation from Ireland to that country.

“It’s not my job to predict prices,” he said. “However, all of the signals point to farmgate beef returns increasing to a significant degree in the very near future.”

When asked for his views on the IFA’s decision to ‘sanction further action’ should beef prices not increase over the coming days, the Minister said that the Association is at liberty to take whatever action it deems necessary in defending the interests of its members.

“As far as I am aware, the IFA has reserved the right to take further action. This is an entirely different scenario to the automatic assumption that future factory protests are inevitable. My job is to drive the work of the Beef Forum forward in order to deliver the best possible set of circumstances for Irish beef farmers,” he said.

“Yes, it is important that producers should secure the best possible return from the market. However, it is not the job of the Forum to push a price agenda. We cannot control producer returns, which must be a direct reflection of the market conditions that pertain at a specific moment in time. In fact, this point has been officially drawn to my attention by the Competition Commission.”

He went on to say that the IFA’s non-participation in the trade mission to China does not reflect a lack of commitment on the part of the organisation to securing the best possible result from the week long schedule of activities now in train.

“The IFA played a central role in copper fastening the need for the initiative in the first place. I fully understand that the organisation’s office bearer team feel the need to concentrate their efforts on resolving various beef issues this week,” he said.

The Minister also said that while he does not believe that it is the role of the Beef Forum to directly interfere in the market, he does support the principles enshrined in the appointment of an EU Food Ombudsman, an issue that has been highlighted over recent weeks by the EU’s newly appointed Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.

“These are two entirely different issues. The envisaged ombudsman would have the power to bring a degree of balance back into Europe’s agri-food supply chain. At the present time, the supermarkets have too much power and influence when it comes to determining what share of the retail cake is received by the various groupings along the chain, particularly primary producers.

“And turning to developments at home, I firmly believe that the establishment of Producer Groups over the coming months will allow Irish beef farmers to interact in a more meaningful and constructive way with the factories.”