Business Farming

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Work cut out for parties at beef summit

Declan O'Brien

Published 16/04/2014 | 02:30

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There is going to be pressure on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to secure something substantive from the beef industry discussions which are due to take place in Dublin Castle on Thursday morning.

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However, the minister is not the only one who will be under pressure. Farmers are also putting pressure on their representative bodies to deliver.

The growing frustration felt by beef farmers were clearly illustrated in the admission by IFA president Eddie Downey that the continued collection of levies for the farmer body by the factories was being raised by farmers at meetings right around the country.

Speaking at a meeting of the Limerick IFA county executive, Mr Downey maintained the policy had never restricted the IFA in its dealings with the factories but the fact that the levy situation is coming under the spotlight is in itself reflective of the mounting anger among farmers.

One industry source characterised this week's summit as an effort to get Minister Coveney and his officials out of the crossfire.

But the farm organisations have already indicated that a glorified PR job by the minister will not be acceptable for their members.

In reality, however, what can the Dublin Castle summit deliver and why was it that an agenda was still not available for the discussions yesterday?

Talking to beef farmers the three main issues they believe need to be addressed are:

1. The manner in which the various trade specifications were changed arbitrarily by the factories without discussions with farm organisations;

2. The 380kg carcass limit and 16-month age target that has been introduced for bull beef. Farmers say these restrictions threaten the viability of the suckler sector;

3. Restrictions on the export of cattle to the North. This is causing growing concern in Border counties and in the west where a high proportion of cattle were traditionally bought by Northern finishers.

There is no way that all of these issues will be sorted by a single round-table summit. However, the fact that all sides are talking is progress and a recognition that there are serious difficulties to be faced.

Indeed, a dearth of communication has been at the root of this crisis.

With that in mind the single most important outcome from this process might be the establishment of some sort of communication forum involving the main stakeholders in the industry, where issues of contention are thrashed out before they develop into serious crises.

For example, the factories maintain they have been talking of changes to beef specifications for the last 15 months but these signals were ignored by farmers and their representatives. However, this contention would be challenged by the farm organisations.

Clearly, delegates will have plenty to argue about come Thursday..

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