'We need a united front from the farm bodies to solve farmers issues'

 

The ringside action at Kilkenny Mart last week. Photo: Kevin Byrne
The ringside action at Kilkenny Mart last week. Photo: Kevin Byrne
Adrian Walshe
Ger Woodcock
Godfrey Greene
John Duggan
John Ryan
Andrew Doyle

Storm Powell

Storm Powell spoke to farmers at Kilkenny Mart about the performance of the farming organisations and the meat factories' grip on the beef trade.

John Duggan

Portlaw, Waterford

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John Duggan
 

John farms suckler cows on circa 200ac in Coolfin and is also a cattle agent for Dawn Meats. An IFA member, he says: "The farming organisations

are limited in what they can

do. They need to keep pressure on factories for higher prices and on Bord Bia to seek better export markets. Organisations should focus on getting the best price for producers rather than on ancillary member services such as selling mobile phones."

His son has recently joined the Beef Plan Movement. "Their intentions are honourable but their shopping list is too long," says John. "I would like to see them seek a decent price throughout the year so farmers would be repaid for investment in wintering cattle.

"I would like to see the IFA, ICMSA, ICSA and Beef Plan Movement sit down at one table and get consensus on a joint plan which they can present to all relevant bodies including the Minister for Agriculture."

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On farmers owning their own factories, he says: "I can't see that working. It was tried before and was not viable."

John Ryan

Borris, Co Kilkenny

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John Ryan
 

Cattle and sheep farmer John Ryan has been an IFA member since he started farming 25 years ago.

"The Government is not listening to farm organisations.

"We need a guaranteed profit margin to ensure sustainability. We also need recognition of the value of agriculture to local communities. The rural/urban divide has never been so wide. We must work together for a common goal," says John.

"Europe needs to be promoting our grass-fed cattle and we need to be paid for the quality meat that we are producing."

John sees the development of the Beef Plan Movement as a positive step. The approach is from the bottom up and members identify clearly with the issues.

"Setting up producer groups is a step in the right direction," he says.

Regarding farmers owning their own factories, he says: "It sounds great in theory but would need a lot of research to see if it would work."

Adrian Walshe

Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny

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Adrian Walshe
 

"I buy stores and sell them as forward stores," says 42-year-old Adrian who farms 140ac in Donoughmore in partnership with his father who rears calves to stores.

Adrian has been a member of the Kilkenny branch of the IFA for the past three years. "Farming organisations should be fighting with factories to get a better price for the higher grade cattle.

"Good quality animals are scarce. The current grading system needs looking at," says Adrian who calls for a premium payment for U grade animals. "Also," he says, "the good dairy calf is making too much for the beef man to make a profit."

Adrian is not a member of the Beef Plan Movement but welcomes its endeavours to seek better prices.

"Factories have total control at present," he says.

On the ownership of feed lots by factories, he says: "Everyone is entitled to have them but numbers should be capped."

Ger Woodcock

Cuffesgrange, Co Kilkenny

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Ger Woodcock
 

Ger is a beef and tillage farmer on circa 250ac in Ballybur and operates a store-to-beef enterprise.

He has been a member of the IFA Danesfort branch for the last 30 years. "Farm organisations are doing their best for beef farmers," says Ger.

"They are restricted in what they can do. Factories are so strong and there is such a supply of cattle. We need to find alternative markets and to find some way of controlling numbers."

Ger is not in the Beef Plan Movement and says.

"I would like to see a united approach to solve farmers' issues. Farming organisations are looking for similar solutions. Groups should be working together."

Ger doesn't see farmer-owned factories working. "Existing factories have the monopoly, the competition is too strong," he says.

Godfrey Greene

Ballycallan, Co Kilkenny

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Godfrey Greene
 

Auctioneer Godfrey Greene farms 120ac, dry stock and horses, and is a member of IFA Kilkenny branch.

"Beef needs better marketing and factory margins are too great. The factories are taking advantage of the big numbers on offer. The farming organisations need to protest.

"With EU elections coming up, it is timely to put on the pressure," says Godfrey who would like to see more members joining the farming organisations.

"The bigger the groups, the stronger the voice," he says.

Godfrey seeks a higher grant from Europe for suckler cows.

"We can't keep producing at present prices," he adds

On the Beef Plan Movement, Godfrey, who welcomes the development of producer groups, says: "If it will help prices, it's a good idea."

On feed lots owned by factories, Godfrey says:

"We can't stop factories owning their own feed lots but it's putting beef producers at a big disadvantage."

 

'Balance of power should be with the farmers'

Andrew Doyle

Roundwood, Co Wicklow

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Andrew Doyle

MEP candidate and Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Andrew Doyle was canvassing at Kilkenny Mart. The Minister also farms circa 200ac of which 50ac is in forestry and 120 adjusted acres are used for sucklers and sheep farming.

Andrew commends the work of farming organisations and applauds the recent work of the IFA who calculated losses of over €100m due to the Brexit process. Andrew says: "The European Observatory has recognised the extensive financial damage to Irish farmers but, as yet, no funding source has been identified. It is imperative that funding will go to the producers and not at the point of trade."

Andrew emphasises the need for a cohesive voice from all farming organisations. "There are approximately 70,000 beef farmers in the country and no more than 20 processors. The balance of power should be with the farmers," says Andrew.

He feels that the ownership of feed lots by existing factories is overestimated. However, he does not see a future in farmer-controlled factories. "In the late 60s my father put money into privately owned factories - it didn't work."

He would, however, welcome fixed price contracts especially for bull beef. He would also welcome a review of the grading system. "It's too complex and we need a user-friendly model."

As a suckler farmer, Andrew says: "All stakeholders including producers, processors, retailers, exporters and farming organisations need to work together to effectively tackle issues.

"We also need to promote a climate-friendly farm production. Intensive farms should look at forestry as a complement to what they are doing."

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