Farmer concern is mounting regarding the prospects in the Chinese market for Irish beef exports, and consequently beef price, following market commentary from the managing director of a leading beef processor.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) outlined its concerns, seeking clarity for Irish farmers to be able to determine their decisions for next year’s calving – and warning that, if price increases aren’t to be seen, farmers will “make decisions accordingly”.

ICSA beef chairperson Edmund Graham warned that, if the Irish meat processors “can’t make hay when the sun shines, it really is time for farmers to shut down shop and rear no calves in 2020”.

Graham responded to comments by ABP’s Mark Goodman on the Chinese market, stating:

“The African swine fever (ASF) crisis has left China aggressively seeking animal protein globally – it is the principle reason why, right now, Brazilian beef is nearly the same price as Irish beef and American beef is dearer.

This, coupled with significant price rises across Europe, provides conclusive justification for beef price to rise above €4.00/kg in early 2020.

“If processors can’t deliver this now, then they never will – and farmers need to make decisions accordingly,” Graham warned.

“During the beef blockade, factories and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine were extremely anxious to facilitate Chinese inspections.

“It doesn’t add up to now play down the value of it.”

Graham highlighted that the ICSA openly canvassed protesting farmers to step aside from protests to allow the Chinese delegations during last summer and late autumn’s farmer protests.

“ICSA did this in good faith for the benefit of the beef sector as a whole and we would be very annoyed indeed if the processors now try to keep all the benefit for themselves at a time when farmers’ losses are mounting due to unsustainably low prices,” Graham concluded.

Irish beef ‘needs to proceed with caution’

Earlier this week, the managing director of ABP International, Mark Goodman, warned that Irish meat exporters need to “proceed with extreme caution” when dealing with the Chinese market, as he stated that it is currently going through some turbulent times – particularly in beef.

Speaking to AgriLand, Goodman gave an insight into how things are in Shanghai at present, highlighting in particular a sharp downturn in beef sales in the Chinese market and an increase in available supplies of both beef and pork.

He stressed the importance of slowly developing sustainable outlets with value-added offerings – with a stark warning that commodity trading round cuts and forequarters need to be given a wide berth.

Goodman warned that, while total beef imports to China are forecast to hit a record 1.5 million tonnes this year, the demand for beef “has not matched” import volumes, adding that Chinese importers now find themselves with “too much stock of beef and huge cash-flow problems”.