Beef price hike now essential to salvage the embattled grid
All hell has broken out over the introduction of the quality payment grid for beef cattle. This changeover was never going to be seamless. Objections are inevitable where a large section of cattle owners are losers.
But the malcontents are more widespread than just dairy farmers and producers of plain cattle. I spoke to feeders with quality cattle and they were also hostile to the change. Even IFA president John Bryan seems to be distancing himself from the new payment system.
Why is there such widespread animosity to what should be a progressive and desirable step? Payment for quality and saleable product must be the way forward.
The complexity of the grid, with its 15 conformation and 15 fat grades, is an issue. One man spoke of getting 10 different prices on a load of 14 cattle. There is also an innate suspicion and mistrust of the meat plants. Some farmers believe that factories, armed with internal information from their grading machines, have concocted a grid to swindle the farmers. The fact that young bulls have also been excluded from the new arrangement has not inspired confidence.
The truth is that the prices in the new grid are based on a large-scale Teagasc trial where 662 carcasses (including a range of steers, heifers and bulls) were boned out and detailed meat yields measured. The 662 carcasses had been graded mechanically in the 15x15 grid, and meat yield was related back to the grade. The price differences in the grid reflect the measured meat yield differentials. Meat factories had no part in this trial, which was published last October.
In the past, efforts to pay for beef cattle, on the basis of saleable meat yield, were thwarted by the lack of a simple and accurate system of measurement. Mechanical grading and the move to the grid seems to have filled this gap.
The price differentials in the Republic's plants are now somewhat greater than applies in Britain and Northern Ireland. But, equally, it can be argued that the new Irish grid differentials are still less than applies in markets like France and Italy.
No doubt the change to a new price grid is a major jump, but the issue has been 'long fingered' for decades. Could the change over have been introduced with less angst?