Jury out on factory feedlots in Power report

The report in to the Irish beef sector by prominent economist Jim Power was released this evening, Tuesday, March 3.

The report, commissioned by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) addressed many issues in the sector – including factory feedlots.

The report gives no definitive answer on whether factory feedlots are good or bad for the sector, but rather gave an appraisal of the various effects that factory feedlots have overall.

The report used the figure of 90,000 for the amount of cattle coming from factory-owned feedlots. The report quotes a radio interview with Meat Industry Ireland (MII) senior director Cormac Healy from February 21, 2018, in which he said that “less than 5% of cattle slaughtered on factory floors originate specifically from factory-owned feedlots”.

Based on 2018 slaughter numbers, this would give a figure of around 90,00 cattle coming from feedlots.

“Beef farmers clearly believe that the factory feedlots are used to influence supply and the price that the farmer ultimately gets,” the report highlights.

“However, it is important to point out that when the factory feedlots are buying cattle from farmers at marts or directly, they create a demand for cattle and have a positive business impact on those who do not finish cattle,” it also noted.

As is the case with many aspects of the supply chain, there is a significant level of distrust between farmers and processors in relation to feedlots.

“Greater transparency would help to alleviate some of this mistrust,” Power said. The issues of trust and transparency feature heavily throughout his report.

Power noted that it “proved impossible” to get data on the number of cattle in both factory-owned and factory-controlled feedlots (the figure of 90,000 related to factory-owned feedlots).

“If the figure of 90,000 cattle in factory-owned feedlots is correct, then the overall impact on cattle prices would be limited in a market where over 1.9 million animals are slaughtered,” the report indicated.

Issues of concern for the Irish beef industry is that the growth of feedlots could risk damaging the grass-fed status of Irish beef.

“Furthermore, during certain times of year, the sudden release of a large number of cattle from feedlots can depress price,” the report also outlined.