Big numbers help factories put the squeeze on farmers


Cattle grazing on the western side of Mount Leinster at Seskinnamadra, Co Carlow last week. Photo: Roger Jones
Cattle grazing on the western side of Mount Leinster at Seskinnamadra, Co Carlow last week. Photo: Roger Jones
ICSA President Edmond Phelan
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

The numbers keep coming, with last week's kill at 34,817, enabling factories to further squeeze prices.

Quotes this week are back 5c/kg across the board, with bullocks on €3.50/kg but €3.55 being paid. Heifers are €3.60, with €3.65/kg paid.

Bulls were sliced by up to 10c/kg two weeks ago, and further pressure was applied yesterday: quotes for U grades are now €3.50/kg, with R grades back to €3.40/kg.

The only silver lining is that those on contracts or with better factory relations are reported as getting 5c/kg more. Quotes for O-grade bulls are 10-20c/kg less, which means you're down at the leading edge of cull cow prices.

Those cull cows have also taken a hit, with O and better P grades reported as trading from €2.70-2.90/kg and mixed loads at €2.80/kg.

This downward pressure is being driven by numbers. With Bord Bia figures showing that the prime cattle kill for the year to the middle of this month is up 5.6pc to 737,530 from 698,420 in 2018, the possibility of a significant turnaround in prices looks remote.

A breakdown of the figures does show the steer kill is back 2.4pc to 310,116 from last year's 317,698. However, the young bull kill is up 14.3pc to 139,792, with the heifer kill stronger by 11.3pc at 287,622.

There appears to be little appetite among farmers or the farm organisations (with the exception of the Beef Plan Movement) to bring the beef price disaster to a wider audience. Arguments around who should get a share of the €100m Beef Exceptional Aid Measures (BEAM) scheme have seen to that.

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ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the fund must be directed solely at the lowest farm income sectors.

"The expectation from the outset was that finishers and suckler farmers would be the beneficiaries," Mr Phelan said.

The ICMSA want those dairy farms that slaughtered stock during the reference period September 24, 2018 to May 6, 2019 included.

The IFA have described the exclusion of dairy farms as "discriminatory" and have urged the minister to review the proposals. Mr Phelan's opposition to the inclusion of dairy farms is understandable. He is doing his job as president of ICSA in trying to deliver the "expectation" of where he believes this money is most needed.

The ICMSA and IFA are a wider church. Their case for a broadening of the compensation base is based on the reality that there are considerable numbers of dairy farms that have stuck with the traditional mixed farming model.

How do you explain to those farmers whose enterprise is built on the wisdom of not having all your eggs in one basket that they do not qualify for measures designed to compensate for "market disturbance" in a very significant portion of their business?

It can't be right that by having a farming model that is more in tune with the ideal of a traditional farming balance than industrial milk and beef production units, you find yourself the victim of bureaucratic short-sightedness.

Indo Farming

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