'€4/kg will just about pay the bills but we have no margin out of that'
Beef Plan protesters prepared to picket 24/7 to achieve objectives, reports Margaret Donnelly
Eight farmers stood at the bridge at the entrance to Meadow Meats in Rathdowney at 7.30pm last Saturday night.
The farmers declared they were prepared to stay there as long as is necessary to win this battle, even if that meant protesting on the Saturday evening of a bank holiday weekend when the factory is on downtime.
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One of the protesters, Glen Cooper, said they were there to ensure there is a continuous protest and that no one passes the picket line without hearing what the farmers have to say.
Mr Cooper, who keeps 40 sucklers on his farm in Coolrain, Co Laois, says farmers are losing €200/head compared to this time last year.
Farmers are being exploited by retailers and processors, he maintains.
"If everyone took at 15-20pc price cut, farmers would not be in the position they're in now." Mr Cooper said retailers and Bord Bia have questions to answer.
"The retailer hasn't dropped the price on the shelves. Farmers are the only ones taking the price cut."
Farmers, he says, need a proper margin. Most of the farmers on the protest are not turning a profit on beef.
"€4/kg will just about pay the bills, but I have no margin out of that. Now, it's a problem for some to pay their bills. I know of a few contractors who are worried, not about themselves but that the farmers they work for may not be able to pay them on time this year."
Mr Cooper has cows calving next month and more than likely he will put them back in calf.
"Otherwise I have nothing to sell and what are my options? Go work for a dairy farmer or grow grass to sell to a dairy farmer?"
This protest, he says, is not about farming organisations and a number of the farmers present are members of both IFA and the Beef Plan Movement.
"This should be about farmers and all the farm organisations should be behind the beef farmer right now," he says.
Mr Cooper (left) also claims Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan "sold out" farmers on the Mercosur trade deal. "If the Mercosur deal was done before the recent (European) elections there would have been a different result.
"Why is it ok to cut down the Amazon rain forest and ship beef to Europe and then tell us, with our green credentials, that we have to plant more trees?"
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