Healy writes to beef processors amidst price pull rumbles

The president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Joe Healy, has personally written to the country’s meat processors urging them not to pull cattle prices over the coming weeks, AgriLand understands.

Although prices for steers continue at 375c/kg and base quotes for heifers stand at 385c/kg, it has been reported that some factories are pulling prices – leaving bullocks at 370c/kg and heifers 10c/kg higher at 380c/kg.

The issue is also emerging at a time when cold storage availability at the country’s meat plants is reaching a “critically short” level.

In the letter to meat plants, seen by this publication, Healy outlines the “extreme anger” of those beef and livestock farmers that are taking price cuts of 20-25c/kg below last year’s price levels; or reductions of up to €100 per head.

“Farmers selling young bulls in recent weeks have endured price cuts in excess of €200 per head. In addition, feeding costs and other inputs are significantly higher this year.

“Winter finishers are encountering major losses and some are facing financial ruin,” writes Healy.

Highlighting sterling’s strength, the differential between Irish and UK cattle prices, plus the steadiness of cattle prices in other EU markets, the IFA leader writes that he “does not see any justification for any reduction” to domestic cattle prices at this time.

With supply numbers expected to tighten over the coming weeks, the IFA and farmers are expecting cattle prices to rise.

In the correspondence it is also stressed that beef farmer fears are compounded by the growing threat and uncertainty of Brexit.

“A cut to cattle prices would be a highly irresponsible and totally unacceptable at this time and very much against the national strategy on Brexit.

“The collective efforts of the farming and agriculture sector needs to be clearly focused on the best solution to the Brexit issue over the next number of weeks and not involved in a row over opportunistic cattle price cuts.

It is essential that the meat factories act responsibly and do not cut cattle prices.

In the letter the IFA also expressed its desire to meet with processor chiefs over the coming days on “this urgent issue”.

Cold storage

Meanwhile, the country’s meat processors have expressed concerns that cold storage availability – both in Ireland and the UK – has reached a “critically-short” level.

Yesterday (March 22), in a statement to AgriLand, Cormac Healy, the director of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said: “Feedback from members is that cold storage availability both in Ireland and in the UK is critically short”.

One factor has been the higher-than-normal stock levels in the industry at the end of the year due to the elevated EU-wide beef output levels in the second half of last year.

“On top of that, storage space has been taken up with Brexit contingency stocks of products from right across the food sector,” he said.

Earlier this week, the European Council announced its agreement to extend the Brexit deadline to May 22, 2019 – provided the withdrawal agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week.

However, if the withdrawal agreement is not approved by then, the council has affirmed that the extension window will be reduced to April 12, 2019.