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Saturday 29 April 2017

New ICSA chief wants action on deepening bull beef crisis

Eddie Punch and Patrick Kent at the ICSA Annual Conference, Alexander Hotel, Dublin. Collins Photo: Michael Donnelly.
Eddie Punch and Patrick Kent at the ICSA Annual Conference, Alexander Hotel, Dublin. Collins Photo: Michael Donnelly.

Ken Whelan and Martin Ryan

A cartel run by the beef processors is to blame for deliberately depressed bull prices and anti-competitive practices, delegates at last Thursday's annual meeting of the ICSA claimed.

Furious delegates went as far as accusing Teagasc of implicitly encouraging farmers to get into producing bull beef.

Incoming ICSA president Patrick Kent told the meeting that current beef export numbers were masking an extremely serious situation in bull beef production.

"It seems unthinkable that a farmer with quality bulls in his shed can't get them killed. But that is what is happening from the north-west to the north-east," he said.

"Farmers are wondering if they would be better off investing in Greencore or Glanbia or Google instead of cattle.

"At least Greencore shares don't have to be fed everyday, they don't require expensive housing and they are not subject to cross-compliance inspections. Better still, you don't have to sell them at 16 months," Kent said

"It's not so long ago that beef processors codded farmers and encouraged them to undermine the export of calves to veal units in Holland. 'Keep the Friesians at home boys,' they were told. The farmers responded and now the impact is not only being felt by those with Friesian bulls but long-standing continental beef men," Kent said.

"We are angry. We need answers. We need to get these cattle processed," he added.

SYMPATHY

MINISTER SIMON COVENEY, WHILE SYMPATHETIC, SAID HE COULD NOT INSTRUCT THE FACTORIES TO GIVE MORE FOR BULL BEEF THAN THE MARKET COULD ACCEPT.

"BEEF PROCESSORS ARE IN THE MARKET TO MAKE MONEY AND THE MARKET IS NOT LOOKING FOR BULL BEEF, IT IS LOOKING FOR STEERS WITH GOOD MARBLING," THE MINISTER POINTED OUT.

But other farm leaders joined the ICSA in their condemnation of meat processors actions.

The IFA's beef chairman Henry Burns said farmer anger was at breaking point now that steer and heifer prices were also beginning to weaken from last week's base prices of €4.00/kg and €4.10/kg respectively.

Mr Burns highlighted that the sterling exchange rate had improved from 84p against the euro in December to 82p over recent days, which he claimed was worth of 10c/kg on beef.

"R grade steers in Britain are making £3.81/kg, which is the equivalent of €4.82/kg and heifers are making £3.78/kg, equivalent to €4.78/kg including VAT," he said.

The IFA leader said that bull prices in the main continental markets of Italy, Germany, France and Spain have improved since last December.

FALLOUT

The fallout from depressed bull prices and the ongoing gap between British and Irish prices has already had a marked impact on live exports.

The latest figures from the Department of Agriculture show that calf live exports are up 64pc, while finished cattle are up 34pc for the first four weeks of January 2014.

Export numbers to Britain increased by 50pc and 19pc to Northern Ireland over the period.

Meanwhile, weanlings and young store live export numbers plummeted over the same period. Weanlings were back by 66pc, while exports of young stores were down by 46pc.

Irish Independent



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