Thursday 25 December 2014

Cow and bull prices improve in wake of Dublin beef forum

Declan O'Brien and Joe Healy

Published 23/04/2014 | 02:30

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney TD (left) with (L-R) Eddie Downey, IFA President, Pat Smith, IFA Gen Sec and Michael Biggins, IFA. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney TD (left) with (L-R) Eddie Downey, IFA President, Pat Smith, IFA Gen Sec and Michael Biggins, IFA. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal

Farmers were enjoying a lift in cow and bull prices this week, as the trade improved slightly in the wake of last Thursday's beef summit.

Scarce supplies resulted in stronger cow and bull prices but factory quotes for steers and heifers were unchanged, with buyers reluctant to pay more than 395c/kg.

However, prices for good cows were up 10-20c/kg, with U grades making up to 350c/kg and Rs getting 340c/kg. Up to 315c/kg was being paid for O grade cows.

There was improved factory demand for bulls, with 370c/kg being paid for mixed loads of R and U grade stock.

There has been a cautious welcome to last week's round-table meeting and the measures that were announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney.

The commitment to launching a 'Beef Pricewatch' online service to make price information more accessible to farmers was seen as a positive development.

Similarly, there was strong farmer support for the decision to allocate €500,000 to a targeted promotion campaign for Irish beef in Britain and certain continental markets.

Other initiatives announced included:

* The round-table to reconvene quarterly, chaired by the minister, to exchange information on recent market developments and forecasts, particularly on supply, demand, prices, product spec and retail changes;

* The chairman of the Beef Activation Group, Michael Dowling, to review implementation of the group's report by engaging with all stakeholders and consider any additional actions, including the possible role of long-term contracts, with a view to reporting back to the minister by the end of May;

* Department to prioritise its targeted on-farm capital investments for suckler farmers through the new Rural Development programme;

* Teagasc to increase efforts to assist farmers to maximise on-farm efficiencies through lowering input costs and increasing output value to deliver a better margin for suckler farmers. This assistance to include advice on adapting to market specifications;

* The minister undertook to engage further with his Northern counterpart, Michelle O'Neill, on issues relevant to sector including trade.

In a statement after the meeting, Minister Coveney said he welcomed the constructive engagement of key beef stakeholders.

Describing the meeting as both "honest and constructive" he maintained that the industry had "a very bright future and could continue to deliver export growth".

However, the minister admitted that better communication and transparency was essential for the sector to realise its potential.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said the formal communication platform agreed upon at the meeting would help to improve dialogue in the sector and ensure that this takes places on a factual and fair basis.

"To ensure best returns from the marketplace, we must continue to focus on producing what the market requires and the recent MII communication on target market specification aims to provide producers with a clear guide to market requirements which will ultimately maximise producer returns," the MII statement said.

However, the farm organisations reiterated calls for outside monitoring of the beef sector and particularly pricing.

ICSA president Patrick Kent said his organisation would continue to make the case for a beef regulator but he welcomed the moves announced by Minister Coveney.

"We welcome the fact that the Minister now sees that there is a crisis in the sector and ICSA will work with the new negotiating process. However, we will have to see solutions which must include viable prices for 450kg bulls, greater understanding of the viability issue on cattle farms and open competition for all grades of cattle. Live exports will have to be facilitated to all markets," he said.

ICMSA president John Comer called for the establishment of an EU Beef Market Monitoring Agency similar to that set up by the commission for dairy markets.

Mr Comer said it was no longer acceptable for beef suppliers to be left completely at the whim of the factories and retailers in terms of price and specifications and it was vital for all parties that some degree of predictability and viability was restored to the business of finishing cattle.

Macra's Sean Coughlan insisted a beef price rise was essential.

"From the point of view of young farmers, the only thing that is going to solve this is an increase in beef prices. Barriers to competition in the beef trade need to be removed for this to happen. The resumption of the live trade to the UK is key to this."

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