Beef producer groups could strengthen the power and profits of farmers - Department

Picture; Gerry Mooney
Picture; Gerry Mooney
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

The establishment of increased producer groups could strengthen the power of farmers, the Department of Agriculture have said, amidst being slammed by TDs for not doing enough to put pressure on the factories to increase prices.

Speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture on beef and Food Wise 2025, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Sinead McPhillips told members that setting up more beef producer groups could  increase the bargaining power of beef farmers to get a better price for their product.

“The department can’t interfere in terms of competition between factories and farmers. We see beef producer groups as a good option to strengthen the power of farmers.

"We would like to see if we could get one or two examples of groups established and working well and feel that would have a positive effect.

“Beef producer groups would be negotiating platforms with the factories, if the groups can differentiate themselves we can see that increasing profitability,” she said.

Department of Agriculture Principal Officer Maria Dunne pointed out that grants are in place for those interested in setting up a producer group to avail of help from a facilitator.

“It’s still quite new to the Irish system. The IFA have a planned seminar next month. It should have a role and would strengthen the position of the farmer in the supply chain,” she explained

However, Fianna Fail spokesperson on Agriculture Charlie McConalogue questioned how useful beef producer groups can be when farmers are “operating in a market that is already oversupplied- how much impact could they make in getting a better price?”

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“Farmers are in the midst of a crisis and the one facing them at the moment is particularly acute. There isn’t a sense coming through that there is a vision out there of how farmers can be profitable in terms of being able to produce,” said Mr McConalogue.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) recently said the beef sector is navigating a "very challenging course", with major Brexit uncertainty undermining confidence.

MII pointed out that pressure on market returns was also leading to lower prices,with strong supplies on the EU and UK markets and moderate demand levels.In the early weeks of 2019, beef processing plants have already seen a 7pc rise in throughput.

“Steak price is back on previous years by more than 10pc. UK food service is performing poorly,” MII stated. In the UK, cattle price has been falling since last October and is now down 20p/kg from the autumn peak."

The Department officials stated that preparation for the development of the industry’s next 10 year strategy will be published in 2020. A stakeholder event will take place before this and the publication will be subject to an environmental assessment before it is released.

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