Farmers must unite for a suckler PGI

The need for a coherent marketing strategy for Irish suckler beef is urgent and critical, says the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) suckler chair Ger O’Brien.

According to the ICSA, it is illogical to say that the national strategy is to get EU funding for a suckler brand, while at the same time looking for a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) for all Irish beef, both dairy and beef.

ICSA suckler chair Ger O’Brien on his farm in Mallardstown, Co. Kilkenny

In order to get a premium price, you must have differentiation

ICSA was the first farm organisation to propose PGI status for suckler beef and continues to be the only farm organisation actively arguing unequivocally for PGI to be for suckler-beef only. The logic is clear: In order to get a premium price, you must have differentiation.

The very definition of the word premium suggests that not all beef can be defined as premium.

As the biggest exporter of beef in Europe, and as a country where 90% of our beef is dependent on export markets, it is a big ask to assume we can get a worthwhile premium for all this beef.

In fact, with current beef prices stuck around the €3.60/kg mark, it is clear that all efforts to get a decent price for all Irish beef being treated as the one generic commodity have been an absolutely disastrous failure.

So, the politically expedient decision to go for one generic PGI for all Irish beef is doomed to failure in terms of getting a better price.

Bord Bia always use suckler imagery to sell Irish beef

According to Ger O’Brien, we need to learn from where we have gone wrong.

“A previous application for PGI status for all Irish beef was rejected by the EU Commission. But the issue is not whether the EU accepts our one size fits all strategy. The key question is what good will a one size fits all be for suckler beef and for the objective of a premium price for a premium brand?

“The reality is that dairy beef is not anything particularly unique to Ireland. Every country in Europe has lots of dairy beef and quite a bit of it is grazed outdoors. Bord Bia always use suckler imagery to sell Irish beef,” stated O’Brien.

The reality is that the image of the happy calf with its happy mother grazing outside is the way to reassure consumers who are anxious about animal welfare. Most suckler systems are low intensity and closer to organic than any dairy system. My own herd has a fully organic status. But we are not getting the premium price we deserve, and we are not going to survive without it.

“Suckler beef needs to be closer to €5.00/kg than €4.00/kg, yet we are dragged down to way below €4.00.

“Part of the problem is that it is quite clear that with 1.7 million animals being slaughtered every year, the meat industry is obviously incapable or unwilling to find premium markets for all of this beef. Yet we see substantially higher prices for beef in Scotland. Even in Turkey beef prices are well above our own prices.”

PGI status is proven to deliver significant price bonuses for products if there is a coherent marketing strategy to accompany it.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is far more expensive than other cheeses, but part of the reason is that it is differentiated from all other Italian cheese. Because it has protected status, no other country or no multinational corporation is entitled to benefit from its reputation for quality.

Further differentiation possible

ICSA believes that the approach taken by Bord Bia to get one generic grass-fed PGI status will completely undermine a strategy to market suckler beef as a premium product.

“In fact, we should go further and segment suckler beef into different speciality beef categories. With this strategy young bull beef could be included and it would also allow for even more differentiation such as three generations of suckler breeds,” said O’Brien.

“But where we are going is a meat industry directed policy to ensure that PGI status is just a poster to put up at international trade fairs and a slight advantage to get into some more markets while all the time competing on low, commodity prices.”

We must unite for suckler PGI

ICSA president Edmond Phelan is appealing to all farmers who care about the future of suckler beef to join ICSA now. He commented, saying:

Suckler farming will stay in the doldrums unless we get organised and united. There are too many different groups trying to do something, but none have the resources to achieve anything. ICSA is fighting for suckler farmers like you. That’s why we are calling on all suckler farmers to back ICSA, to back a PGI status for sucklers and to join ICSA today.

ICSA president Edmond Phelan

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