Business Farming

Thursday 29 September 2016

'The average beef farmer is working for €2 an hour'

Alison de Vere Hunt, Ardmayle, Cashel, Co Tipperary, auctioneer and farmer

Ken Whelan

Published 17/02/2016 | 02:30

Alison de Vere Hunt
Alison de Vere Hunt

Beef farmers have a choice - stage a 'revolution' and force the factories to pay a fair price or else remain at the bottom of the food chain. That's the verdict from Alison de Vere Hunt who runs a beef farm with her brother Robert and mother Annette in Co Tipperary.

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"Beef prices are where they were back in the eighties and what you get from the factories is nowhere near the actual value of the beef produced. I reckon the average beef farmer is working for €2 an hour at the moment and is only getting across the line, in financial terms, with their EU basic payment," she says.

She believes the causes of this imbalanced market are the beef processors' tactics, fence-sitting by successive agriculture ministers and ineffective lobbying from farm organisations.

A psychology graduate who also holds masters degree in business, Alison is well placed to make these calls.

Not only does she help run the family's 200ac beef enterprise at Ardmayle, near Cashel, but she also runs the family's private mart as well as their thriving auctioneering business in the town.

Alison took an active interest in the family businesses after her father, Philip, well known among the local farming community as "Vere', died three years ago.

The family farm currently runs a herd of around 100 cattle and it is being restocked to take between 300 to 400 head, while the mart sells some 26,000 head of cattle annually, mainly through the Saturday sales.

Alison is strictly management on the mart side and hasn't wielded the gavel yet despite local farmers mercilessly egging her on at every hand's turn.

"My brother Robert and another auctioneer do that. I am not saying I won't do it. Maybe someday I will - if both of them are out sick," she says.

The 31-year-old took the scenic route back to Cashel after leaving school.

She decided to go on a world tour in her teens taking in South Africa en route to working on a dairy farm in New Zealand and then fetched up in San Francisco working as a 'sort of measures inspector' when Star Wars creator, George Lucas, was building his visual arts centre in the city by the bay.

"I had to make sure the amounts of soil taken off the site and brought on to the site were correct. There were a lot of chancers on the site. It was a great job but I didn't meet the great man."

Then it was off with her to Roehampton University for her psychology degree and on to Dublin IT for her master's degree in business and then back to the real world in Cashel.

"My father was delighted. He knew I would come back to the business," Alison says.

Cashel Mart does not collect levies for third parties and Alison believes the situation for beef farmers will not improve until there is a root and branch reform in sector and that includes marts collecting levies for the IFA, she emphasises.

Similarly, she believes there is a "bubble" developing in the land rental market where she says that prices are "crazy" with young farmers trying to get on to the ladder competing for limited land with farmers trying to expand their enterprises.

She believes Irish land rental prices - the highest in the world, she contends - are making farming less competitive.

"Everyone will end up with bills they cannot pay," she predicts.

And then she speaks of her misgivings about the traceability issue, querying how Polish beef can be imported for further processing and of her fears that Irish farmers won't rise up against the current TTIP talks.

"If we want to keep farming in farmers hands then the TTIP should not be allowed pass," she says.

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