June 30th 2014
Monaghan ICSA hosted a visit to suckler and beef farms by MEP Mairéad McGuinness recently, where the difficulties facing the sectors were highlighted. ICSA Monaghan chairman Edmond Graham said that “ICSA are working to ensure that key representatives understand the problems faced by suckler and beef farmers. Farmers are extremely frustrated by the sudden and unwarranted changes to spec for bull beef, which on top of price reductions, is leading to a real sense of pessimism in the sector.”
“We need a lot more transparency around who gets what from the retail chain. Farmers are clear that they are not getting a fair share of the final beef retail price. They believe that anti-competitive practices such as the rules on animal movement and residency periods are undermining their viability. The situation has been exacerbated by more and more cattle going into factory controlled feedlots, which is an effort to ensure that there is a ready supply of surplus cattle whenever supplies get scarce. Farmers are frustrated at the barriers to exporting live store cattle to Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Farmers believe that the single European market is working fine for big business but not so well for small and medium enterprises such as family farms.”
“We need our MEPs to aggressively tackle the control of large scale processors and multinational retailers at EU level. We need transparency over retail margins across Europe and with specific detail on each individual member state. We also need to look at whether it is acceptable to have beef processors controlling significant numbers of cattle in their own feedlots. Finally, we need Government intervention to ensure that specs and pricing structures cannot be changed overnight without consultation. We are not asking the Government to set price – clearly that’s out of the question – but we are saying that specs and price grids should be governed by some form of regulation or oversight.”
“ICSA asked for figures at the recent beef roundtable on how many cattle actually get the quality assured bonus but both Bord Bia and the meat industry were unable to supply answers. Based on ICSA analysis we believe that as few as one in four cattle are actually getting the bonus even though 87% of Irish farms are fully quality assured. The Government cannot stand idly by while the state sponsored quality assurance scheme is used as a stick to beat farmers with. That’s exactly what’s happening at present where so few cattle are getting the bonus and some cattle which don’t have the QAS are being rejected or crucified on price.”
ICSA National Suckler Committee vice-president, Cavan farmer Hugh Farrell said that the suckler sector was on its knees. “The key issue is that price has fallen and factories are going to town on bull beef in particular. We need our MEPs to ensure that live exports both within and out of the EU are facilitated. We also need to support bull beef production in this country with realistic weight and age limits that reflect the breeding in the suckler herd and the marketing advantage of the origin Green strategy which focuses on grass systems.”
Mr Farrell explained that proposed new weight limits of 380kg carcass and age limits of 16 months were a disaster for beef and suckler farmers. “Last year, a finisher could take a continental bull from the suckler herd, grow him at low cost on grass and finish him at 22 months weighing 450kg at a price of €4/kg- giving a sale price of €1800. Now he is expected to achieve a margin at a weight of 380kg and a price of €3.60, by the age of 16 months. It simply can’t be done with high quality continental bulls where you are looking at a drop of almost €450 per animal.”
The ICSA representatives brought Mairéad McGuinness to see the suckler farm of Mr Brendan Quigley and the beef farm of Mr Gerard Rafferty. Mr Quigley is producing high quality Charolais cross suckler weanlings but he says that he plans to cut cow numbers. As a participant in his local BTAP discussion group, he said that none of the farmers who have completed a profit monitor are making any money out of cattle farming.
On Mr Rafferty’s farm, the MEP saw the high quality Limousin and Charolais bull beef system that was being operated based on buying in quality suckler weanlings. This system is also under threat from the new limits. A number of local Monaghan farmers were in attendance and there was full agreement that the sector was in deep difficulty. All were extremely critical of meat processors and retailers.