Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Viewpoint: All is calm on the beef front but for how long?

Published 29/07/2015 | 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, at a previous Beef Forum. 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, at a previous Beef Forum. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal

The talk from last week's Beef Forum was all about markets, new and old.

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Those with a ringside seat at the regular get-together between farmers, state agencies and industry reported back that it was relatively plain sailing, as opposed to last November's heated meetings.

Back then, all sides were rightly getting more than a tad hot and bothered about the prices being paid for prime beef at the factory gates.

While all is relatively calm now on the beef front, it could be a very different scenario 18 months from now when a predicted 'flood' of beef - courtesy of dairy herd expansion - hits the market.

The figures are hard to argue with. Calf registrations are up 116,000hd, while the numbers of Angus and Herefords registered have risen 19pc in the first six months.

The relatively tight supply of cattle has helped shore up prices here, but the figures show the European market remains well supplied.

We've already seen a summer of discontent in France, where more cattle coming onto an already depressed market has led to a lot of unrest.

However, it's not just the conventional beef finishers who have one eye already on 2017 onwards.

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Organic

Expanding the potential customer base is also a key issue in the burgeoning organic sector.

With an additional 504 farmers signing up to the Organic Farming Scheme and entering into a two-year conversion, processors and co-ops are already looking for new markets for the valuable meat due to come on stream.

John Brennan, manager of the Leitrim Organic Co-op, told farmers gathered at a farm walk in Laois last week that the new scheme was welcome but it was "only half the story".

Again, the markets are the other half of the equation.

It's estimated that a third of the calves born on organic beef farms are processed by the conventional beef finishing system in their final months.

Likewise, many lambs aren't under an 'organic' label because of the prohibitive costs involved in travelling to the country's sole large processing factory equipped to process organic lamb.

For their part, processors point out a year-round supply is key to securing new markets.

They maintain that unless they can guarantee a supply 52 weeks of the year, potential customers will walk.

There are a lot of advantages to be exploited for the organic sector.

Sales of conventional beef are falling on the Continent, but the clean green image of Ireland's organic beef is something processors and Bord Bia feel can be harnessed, particularly in Scandinavia, Germany and Holland.

Indo Farming