Is the beef trade finally beginning to swing back in the farmer's favour?

Photo: Gerry Mooney
Photo: Gerry Mooney
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

RIGHT now, the factory trade is replete with rumours that numbers are potentially going to get scarce. Yet when you go about trying to nail down facts about any general improvement in pricing, you'll be told there's still plenty of stock about.

However, there are very subtle indicators that things are moving back in the farmers' favour.

While prices for bullocks and heifers yesterday remained steady at €3.45 and €3.55/kg, there was an acceptance from those with whom I spoke within the trade that a minimum of 5c/kg extra was being given for under-age stock.

Stories also abound of factory agents travelling distances to get those younger animals and agents being told "don't leave them behind you".

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One agent told me: "I can't do anything on the price, but I'll do something for you on weights."

Tying down what may be about to happen on prices is currently a bit like trying to locate a draught in a room.

Chinese demand

What is certain, however, is the breeze fanning demand has its origins in China.

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The specifics of those Chinese contracts have an emphasis on forequarters cuts as opposed to steaks.

They are not of an overly high value, but that is more than balanced by the volume's tendered for.

I was left wondering recently about the real cost of farm traceability. If you're a shopper, does it really matter to you whether the beef you're buying is under or over 30 months as long as it's fresh once you open it?

Does it matter if the farm it came from has very exact records as to when that animal was born, what the animal has been fed and how many times the animal was moved?

I expect not. What will matter is whether your family actually like what you serve up once you've finished cooking.

I once had a rather clever chap question me on the quality of my silage. I opened a round bale and moving it along with a feeder placed it in a field where 30 bullocks were grazing.

They surrounded the feeder and got stuck in. "They don't appear to have a problem with it," I said.

The consumer should have the reassurance of best before dates and that the methods of production used were of a good standard.

But when it comes down to it, have we in Ireland created a quality assurance system that is overly taxing on the farming sector when what the market really wants is consistently good product that's well-presented?

Does the market actually return a premium to farmers for the time and effort taken to adhere to the fine detail?

I am a believer in good farming and book keeping, but when I look at the industry that has grown up around quality and farm assurance and the number of bodies it employs, I wonder how much of my animal has been disappeared in hidden wages and costs before I actually see my cheque?

Indo Farming

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