Furious beef farmers warn sector is on brink of collapse

Angry exchanges as suckler farmers say there is no hope as returns are 'equivalent to the dole'

Livestock farmers say they are now totally dependent on their direct payments for an income.
Livestock farmers say they are now totally dependent on their direct payments for an income.

Martin Ryan

Angry beef farmers have thrown down the gauntlet to the IFA to deliver stronger leadership on prices, and warned that the sector was on the brink of collapse.

Amid angry exchanges at a meeting of Limerick IFA last week, livestock farmers claimed they were now totally dependent on their direct payments for an income which averaged €210-€250/week - "equivalent to the dole" as one contributor maintained.

A leading IFA man in the county said the association should admit to farmers that there was no hope for the suckler sector and advise members to sell up the cows and "get a job".

The angry comments in Limerick mirrored sentiments expressed at a recent IFA meeting in Kerry, and at meetings of the Beef Plan Group in Roscommon and Claremorris.

"I can see the sector totally collapsing," Donal O'Brien, a former member of the IFA livestock committee, told the Limerick meeting.

Mr O'Brien called on the IFA to "for God's sake engage more expertise if necessary", to deliver better representation for beef farmers.

"I have three sons, and a good farm of land, but they have no interest in it and I don't blame them. I have 72 suckler cows, I'm cutting back to 30 and I will be gone out next year. If the IFA can't come up with a plan to save the suckler sector they should tell farmers to get out and get a job," he said.

"It is time for action by the IFA to take on the processors head-on but we need a new group to do that because I have no faith in IFA to deliver. Would you like to work for €12,000 a year? That's what we are getting. All I want is to get paid for my product," beef farmer Tom O'Donnell said.

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Eddie Scanlan, of the IFA's livestock committee, said suckler farmers were expected to live on an income that is just over the dole payment.

"What future is there? None. The sooner we tell farmers that it is over the better. It will be over after the present generation is gone, because there is no future," Mr Scanlan claimed.

Responding to the criticism of the Limerick farmers, the IFA's livestock director, Kevin Kinsella, accepted that there were "major income challenges in the livestock sector".

He said farmers were justified in demanding a strong lift in factory prices given "the €200 price gap with the UK, our main export market".

Mr Kinsella said that supply year-to-date is up more than 50,000hd and likely to finish the year around 53,000hd higher than 2017.

While British beef prices have eased over the past five weeks, they are at the equivalent of €4.45 for steers, a differential of 59c/kg over the Irish price. This equates to €210 on a 350kg carcass. Mr Kinsella said prices in the EU were beginning to increase, while live exports were up 54,700hd on 2017.

Eamon Corley of the 6,000-member strong Beef Plan Group said the group aimed to increase to 40,000 members in order to campaign for cost of production plus a margin. Mr Corley said beef prices are "always a concern and are always way below what they should be". He told the Roscommon meeting this was causing many farmers to get out of suckler farming altogether.

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