ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that beef contracts for cattle finishers are not the solution to the beef crisis. He said the key is a sustainable share of the retail price and transparency about who gets what.
“Contracts are not much good if they lock farmers into unsustainably low prices or into non-viable specs that require bulls to be finished at light weights and unrealistic age limits.”
Mr Kent went on to suggest that small- and medium-scale finishers would not get fair play under a system of beef contracts. “Farmers suspect that large feedlots and factory controlled units get a better deal while the ordinary guy gets screwed. Experience suggests that the only way a farmer gets a good deal is when cattle are scarce. Beef contracts for the average farmer will be unviable when cattle are plentiful and not necessary when they are scarce.
“The reality is that the retail trade want to squeeze every last drop out of producers. This is evident not only with the beef trade here but with price cuts in recent times for British farmers as well. Contracts that lock farmers into unviable systems of production are only a means to guaranteeing supply when cattle get scarce, while ensuring that beef farming continues to be one of the lowest paid occupations.”
He said the beef roundtable instigated by Minister Coveney needs to focus on the lack of transparency about who gets what from the beef supply chain. “It also needs to tackle the way in which factories are manipulating beef pricing systems and the quality assurance scheme to drive down price for various categories of stock. We need to go back to the drawing board on specs for young bull beef and decide if we want a suckler industry based on continental cattle. Until we sort out these key issues, talking about contracts is just a distraction.”