Jack Russell’s beady black eyes have been watching the Beef Plan Movement (BPM) very closely.

He sympathises entirely with their motives and admires the enthusiasm with which they issued their call-to-arms.

Alas, it is not the first group of wide-eyed, fired-up rebels to learn the hard way that announcing that something is broke is the easy part of the sequence.

What is to succeed that which is ‘broke’ is where the challenge usually lies. That is where momentum can so easily be lost; the problem looks the same to everyone – whereas the solution rarely does.

Everyone can see that the car has cut out and stopped. But why?

‘Foostering’ in the woods

Take that survey conducted by the BPM last week via their WhatsApp pages, and responded to by some 2,400 farmers.

Did farmers believe that a cartel was operating within the sector? Indeed they did.

Did they believe that the lack of competition in the industry is having a negative impact across the board?

Absolutely no one will be surprised to learn that, once more, the responding farmers did believe that.

With all due respect to Jack’s friends in the BPM, these are questions of the ‘does a bear defecate in the woods?’ variety.

We will learn nothing from the entirely predictable responses because they (BPM) have evidently learned nothing about the necessity of going beyond completely predictable questions.

Matters improve very considerably when the questions start moving past the woods that are bears’ preferred washroom facilities and into the impenetrable jungle that is the beef grid.

Here is the specific focus that these types of surveys need if they are to reveal anything; no more foostering around with trimmings and off-cuts, this is the rump of the matter.

In excess of 95% of the respondents said that they did not believe that the grid returned a fair price to them.

Not conclusive enough for you?

Well, 97.9% of the respondents answered in the affirmative when asked whether they believed that the beef grid needs to be reformed.

In farmer advocacy, as in all aspects of life, timing is everything. The Beef Plan Movement’s very belated acceptance of the need to reform the beef grid is welcome, but it does raise questions about why it’s taken the guiding lights of BPM a mere nine years to see what was obvious to some a matter of weeks after the grid was foisted on farmers – oops, I meant ‘introduced after widespread consultation’ – at the end of 2009.

A good, solid nip

Jack Russell keeps a pile of old copies of The Corkman up in his attic for reference (and insulation) and he started digging through them the same way he’d go after a long-buried bone.

The following is from the issue dated February 19, 2010, and is attributed to Jack’s old pal, deputy Jackie Cahill, then wearing his ICMSA flat cap:

“Following the introduction of the new grid, Irish farmers find themselves in the usual position where we have the most complex and sophisticated grid in Europe and the lowest prices. We only have to look at the British classification system which has half the categories for the grades covered by the grid.

“The British grid for the U2 to P5 categories consists of 30 boxes – half the number of our grid. That fact alone shows us that the grid was not ‘market-led’ as we are now being told. The markets didn’t demand this grid and we’re left with the reality that the grid was designed to cut the prices paid to farmers and to disguise that fact.”

Nor was Jackie finished.

In a manner that would make the Terrier-for-the-Truth himself envious, he went back for another good, solid, nip:

“As was usual in Ireland, the people most directly concerned by proposed changes were not consulted adequately, if at all, and what was produced was slipshod and manifestly flawed.”

That was approximately eight weeks after the grid was first introduced.

Nine years later, we have the Beef Plan Movement survey solemnly nodding agreement.

The question arises: If the defects were so obvious to a few canny observers back then, why did it take nearly a decade for others to see them? And if your judgement was so flawed back then, as 2009 turned to 2010, why would it be any better now?

Deafening silence

Perhaps it’s because many members of the BPM were involved in an organisation that – how to put this delicately? – didn’t encourage criticism of the beef grid.

Jack Russell is not suggesting for even one second that the beef grid was another one of those “purely private arrangements” to which Minister Creed made such tantilising reference recently.

But it’s fairly obvious that one organisation has maintained a deafening silence on the suitability or otherwise of the grid, even as the chorus of agreement with Jackie Cahill’s original damning criticism has grown louder down the years.

Until and unless that organisation is prepared to concede that they got this wrong and were outmaneuvered by Meat Industry Ireland nearly a decade ago, then farmer beef prices will remain in the state in which they’ve languished more or less ever since: gridlock.