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Beef still in the dark on a way forward for the sector

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The beef sector is in crisis as prices have fallen

The beef sector is in crisis as prices have fallen

The beef sector is in crisis as prices have fallen

The vacuum of tangible progress on the beef crisis continues this week. While we hear lots of encouraging sound-bites from the key players, little or none of them have translated into any change on how much a farmer can actually get for his animal at the factory.

The IFA leadership tell us that they have made progress with Tesco UK on the issue of mixed origin cattle being penalised in Northern Ireland.

But Tesco's response for some detail on their opinion on a new label was limited to "we will review the proposals in relation to a new labelling regime in detail."

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) are similarly remiss in the detail surrounding the olive branch they extended across the national airwaves on RTE's Morning Ireland last week.

Listeners were told by a spokesman for MII that they were prepared to offer "further" flexibility, because the meat processors "recognise" the hardship suffered by farmers.

In the same breath, we were also informed that there was still a "long-term trend that is well established in the industry for younger, lighter animals". In other words, we're open to offering temporary relief, but don't get used to it.

However, since that pronouncement last Friday morning, MII was unable to tell us what these flexibilities might entail. The easiest thing for them to offer is some flexibility on the maximum weight that farmers will be able to supply stock at without incurring penalties. Like any good tangler, they will wait for farmers to reveal their opening offer.

But it is not just weight penalties that have fuelled beef farmer fury over the last number of weeks and months.

It's the penalties that are imposed for movements and age, and the constant shifting of the goalposts without any consultation with their farm suppliers.

Just in case the Minister for Agriculture, the retailers or the meat factories are wondering what exactly beef farmers need to steady the ship again, here's a little refresher list, courtesy of the ICSA:

• A quality assurance bonus to be paid on all quality assured animals, rather than those that fit the myriad of factory specs;

• A fair price for over 30 month cattle;

• An easing of movement rules to allow farmers to buy and sell at marts without fear of undermining the value of their stock through movement rules;

• A realistic age and weight spec for suckler cattle that allows Irish farmers make the most of the only comparative advantage that they have - that of plentiful grass;

• Finally, if they want to change pricing systems in the future, how about consulting with the people that are charged with meeting the new requirements beforehand?

Indo Farming