Farming Independent – 22 March 2016
Farm bodies call for full review of the grid and restrictions
by Louise Hogan
Pressure is mounting for a full review of the controversial beef grid which has been branded “anti-trade” by marts body ICOS.
Amid long-running criticism of the quality payment system (QPS), the marts branch of ICOS has called a meeting of farm bodies tomorrow to discuss issues around the grid which they feel weren’t fully addressed fully at the recent Beef Forum talks.
The ICOS move comes as analysis shows Irish farmers could lose €10.6m a year – or an average of €79 per head – if the limits on heavier carcase weights of around 420kg were imposed across the board, hitting over 133,000 cattle.
The co-op organisation has called for the 70-day pre-slaughter movement restrictions that were brought in with the grid to be removed.
“Farmers have issues with weight limits and age,” said ICOS marts executive Ray Doyle. “The grid is seven or eight years old at this stage. We want to discuss is it fit for purpose – the meeting has an open agenda.”
Mr Doyle pointed out farmers will lose out on a 12c bonus – or around €50 a head – if the animals are moved in the last 70 days or to more than four farmers. “What else can you call that but anti-trade,” he argued.
Both the ICSA and the ICMSA, who have confirmed they will be attending the meeting, have called for a review of the beef grid, along with the age, weight and quality assurance restrictions.
The IFA pointed out the moves by factories to impose limits on carcases weighing in at more than 420kg would cost farmers €10.6m a year if it was in play across the board, with 89pc of cattle impacted from the suckler herd.
Michael Guinan, chair of the ICMSA’s livestock committee, said the country was getting to a stage where cattle have to be produced to such a strict specification that the system of grass-based beef will be of absolutely no advantage. He said many farmers feel the “goalposts” are constantly being moved by factories with animals falling foul of specifications.
“The meat plants will have to face the reality that the majority of our beef will come from the dairy herd going forward and in this regard, we need to review the beef grid and its associated age, weight and QA restrictions to reflect that reality,” said Mr Guinan.
He called for a commitment given at the end of November 2014 to review the beef grid to be honoured.
ICSA beef chairman, Edmond Phelan, said they wanted a full review of the grid, pricing issues and the mechanisms used that see some animals fall foul of the grid.
“Current weight limits of 420kg are unacceptable,” he said, adding the weight limits hit hardest on the better U grade carcasses with bonuses of up to 20c/kg being lost.
“Consequently, the grid is now broken,” he said.
Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said the QPS plays a critically important role in the beef sector as it follows the market and rewards quality and market suitability. It stated it was not opposed to a review of the QPS but it pointed out the 70 day rule was a key customer requirement.
MII said a potential review was discussed in the beef forum but not considered a “priority” by most stakeholders. “We continually query what those calling for a full review actually hope to achieve.” It pointed out the “current malaise” in the UK and EU markets underlined the need for tighter adherence to international market specs.
The Agriculture Department said the QPS was a “commercial agreement” between processors and farm organisations and any review is solely a matter for these parties. The minister has offered technical input from Teagasc if required.
The IFA said it was pushing for an increase in the 30-month age limit and opposed carcase weight cuts. However, it stopped short of calling for a full review. IFA livestock chair Henry Burns said age and grade were the major factors in denying farmers the 12c/kg bonus.