Cormac Healy: Processors have delivered on measures to boost returns to suckler farmers
The increasing international focus on sustainably produced beef is a big opportunity for suckler farmers
Irish beef is listed with more retailers than beef from any other country in the world. Over the last decade or so, huge efforts have been made to increase the penetration of Irish beef with key customer accounts across the UK, Europe and beyond.
The strategy has been to increase the proportion of Irish beef sales going to retail and major food-service operators, improving the profile of the customer base and increasing the return from the marketplace.
Beef from the specialised suckler herd has been a significant factor in achieving this progress. The overall quality of beef from the suckler herd and the story of grass-fed specialised beef production from family farms are important aspects in positioning Irish beef with key buyers.
Describing the suckler beef herd as the cornerstone of the Irish beef sector is not just a tagline.
Our ability to retain key customer accounts or push further for the premiumisation of Irish beef would be challenged if we were to see a major decline in suckler herd in Ireland.
Furthermore, the suckler enterprise operates throughout Ireland, often on land types that would not easily lend themselves to other farm enterprises.
The improved marketing and the higher customer profile for Irish beef exports has delivered a price dividend. Through farmers' eyes that price dividend may not be enough, but, over the last decade, the fact is that Irish cattle price as a percentage of EU average price has moved from 95pc to 100pc and in more recent times to a sustained position well above the EU average.
Year-to-date in 2018, Irish cattle price has been 106pc of the EU average. It must be remembered that this has been achieved in the context of Ireland having to export 90pc of the beef we produce compared to most EU members states where the domestic market consumes all or the majority of their beef.