20th December, 2013
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association says farmers are extremely angry with meat factories, who have all but shut down the trade for young bulls.
ICSA beef chair Edmond Phelan said the situation is reaching crisis point. “It’s not just a case of getting dismal prices for these animals – some factories are refusing to kill them. They’re overhanging the entre trade as a result and dragging down prices for all animals. It’s crippling finishers who have specialised in young bulls and the anger is palpable.”
He said the factories are rowing back on commitments they made two years ago, when they actively encouraged finishers to fatten bulls, particularly dairy bulls. “We were told by the beef barons that there would be a strong trade for these animals – a decent margin and plenty of demand. But they have changed their tune completely and are now leaving farmers who switched their focus to bulls high and dry.”
Mr Phelan also slammed the 16 month age limit as being totally unworkable in an Irish context. “With grass-based feeding systems and the high cost of concentrates it is simply uneconomical to finish bulls at 16 months – Teagasc research backs this up. It’s high time the factories stopped messing around with arbitrary, unrealistic and unworkable age limits.”
The consequences for the beef and suckler industries could be dire, he warned. “If this situation is left unchecked, it will do more harm than any scheme or subsidy could ever hope to remedy. Beef and suckler farmers will abandon the sector and switch to dairying or even contract rearing in the hopes of making a decent living. We could end up like New Zealand, where the bull calves are shot. How the factories cannot see the damage they are doing is beyond me. Where do they think they’ll get their animals from when the industry grinds to a halt?”
“The factories need to seriously re-think their strategy and the way they treat their suppliers if the industry is going to survive, let alone hit expansion targets. The Minister must also recognise the danger and act very quickly to avert a crisis. If he fails to tackle this disastrous situation, Food Harvest 2020 will be dead in the water as regards beef – instead of a 40 per cent increase, we’ll see a 40 per cent decrease, if not more.”