Farm Ireland

Monday 19 November 2018

Beef grid: 'It's like a lucky bag'

John Comer, former ICMSA President.
John Comer, former ICMSA President.

The beef grid is a "frustration" that is continuing to exercise farmers the length and breadth of the country, says the outgoing ICMSA president John Comer who has seen many a heated meeting on the long-running issue.

"The lobby should be stronger and more co-ordinated and more committed to have a complete review of the grid," says Mr Comer.

"Everybody that I know is absolutely frustrated with it and to a person they all say to me they are two years looking at an animal in the field and cannot get an evaluation on the animal before they go.

"They feel it is like a lucky bag, and that is the phrase that is cropping up regularly," says Mr Comer.

"For that reason alone I think the industry should respect the opinion of the primary suppliers to their industry and have a whole overhaul and complete review of the grid."

After six years at the helm he feels farmers should also be issued with the carcase imaging when they are getting their cheque.

"That imaging is available," he says, adding farmers are uncertain of what they need to produce to satisfy industry and the multi-national retailers and the guidelines keep changing.

"The lead-in is so long that farmers get frustrated. They may want a heavy carcase now but by the time they have bred the heavy carcase it will take a couple of years and then they want a light carcase."

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The fall-off in suckler herd numbers has continued.

Mr Comer feels there will be a further reduction in the herd due to a lack of profitability.

Amid some concerns raised over the quality of some of the stock coming off the dairy herd as beef crosses, Mr Comer feels the focus of the beef crosses are now going "back in the right direction".

"The vast bulk of the beef is coming from the dairy herd," he says.

"I think there is excellent quality coming from the dairy herd and I think we have to market it as excellent quality; it is prime quality produced at the highest standards," he said.

"We need to build the picture around that and the grassfed bit around that too."

As Brexit negotiations intensify ahead of the mid-December meetings at EU level,

Mr Comer describes the potential exposure to Ireland as "absolutely massive".

"Our negotiators need to be on top of their game, well-focused and a fully collaborative approach from politics when they go out to negotiate," he says. "We can't take for granted that other member states are going to have the same focus as what is good for Ireland is good for the EU. "

He pointed to the high volumes of beef and cheddar cheese destined for the UK markets. "We have no other markets readily available to us."

He warns the Mercosur trade pact is in total contradiction to the EU's sustainable development goals. "Leaving our continent vulnerable to a minimum of 70,000t of beef that I don't believe, and I don't think anyone else that I know of believes, is going to be produced to the same standards as the EU," he says.

"It doesn't even take account of environmental credentials," he says. "It actually undermines the confidence of the ordinary people to understand that our policy makers can be a little disingenuous at times."

On the whole, Mr Comer feels the multi-national food retailers have too much power. He says the voluntary codes of practice didn't work and Commissioner Phil Hogan has recognised that. With pressure mounting on the liquid milk front, he feels that co-ops allowed "the rot to set in" as margin was given away too easily.

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