Beef Prices: 'Magnificent Seven' badly needed by beef farmers
"If God did not want them sheared, He would not have made them sheep."
A classic line from a classic film, the 1960 western The Magnificent Seven. It is spoken by bandit leader Calvera (Eli Wallach), during his first meeting with Yul Brynner's character. Calvera's point is that the village and its farming community Brynner and his friends are trying to protect are easy pickings for him and his gang and not worth the effort of defending.
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Irish cattle farmers find themselves in a similar position to the film's villagers: an isolated section of the farming community fighting to survive in a hostile world where the strong extract what they view as their due.
Yesterday's quotes for bullocks ranged from €3.75-3.80/kg, while heifers were €3.85-3.90/kg. However, a second string of prices was floating about late last week and over the weekend, with the above prices reported as being 5c/kg less in certain quarters.
Getting an accurate handle on whether these lesser quotes were being enforced was difficult, with factories holding their cards close to their chest.
My opinion is that with farmers again finding it difficult to get stock killed when required, a certain fear among those with stock to sell was perhaps the main cause of this rumour.
While the number of cattle killed every week has a huge bearing on where prices settle, factories continue to truck animals long distances.
The reason for this is that not enough farmers are prepared to break their traditional link with their local plant, thus making them easier targets for lower quotes.
So, while one local farmer is mulling over a potentially reduced-price offer, another 60 miles away is getting 5-10c/kg more plus transport to keep the kill line moving - weakening the first farmer's bargaining position, because the factory in effect is backing up local supplies.
Prices for bulls also continue to be pressurised, with U grades holding to €3.80/kg and Rs on €3.70/kg. The issue of getting stock away before the 24-month cut-off is a bigger issue among many than the price, as those over 24 months are being cut by factories by 20c/kg.
Cull cows slip 10c/kg, with R grades on €3.20/kg, while O grades are back to €2.90-3.00/kg. Your better P will still probably get you an O grade price provided they have cover, but anything of lesser quality is lesser money.
How long can those with stock to sell continue to hold out as every day sees additional expense and the drawing in of age cut-offs?
Adding to the confusion and fear is the return of Brexit. Phil Hogan wants suckler farmers to pack in the job, while Minister Creed continues to champion the Beef Data and Genomics Scheme as he tries to incentivise the sector. As for that €100 million, don't ask.
For the record, with Brynner and Co's aid, the villagers at last find the courage to stand their ground, and after a fierce fire-fight Calvera is defeated. Great film. But who can be the Irish beef farmers' Magnificent Seven?
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