John Heney: Beef protesters have created a crisis - they didn't care about us finishers

Some of the messages on display at the Beef Plan Movement protest
Some of the messages on display at the Beef Plan Movement protest

John Heney

Many beef farmers find themselves in a bad place because of the ongoing damage and disruption caused by the factory blockades - and it was blatantly obvious that this was going to happen.

Many finishers are being obliged to wait for weeks and even months to have their cattle slaughtered. With winter setting in and in many cases no arrangements in place to feed or house these cattle, a pall is descending on the sector.

It was clear right from the beginning that many of those involved in the protests had little to do with the business of fattening cattle, and in some cases, no involvement.

It was also obvious to farmers with finished cattle ready to sell that any event which prevented cattle being sold at such a critical time of the year could only result in a crisis.

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Neither can the protesters claim that they did not realise the damage which their blockades might cause. On several occasions I and many other farmers explained to them the disaster which lay ahead for farmers like me if they did not end their blockades.

The protesters' response was to tell me in no uncertain manner that as far as they were concerned, my interests and those of my fellow farmers who rely on finishing cattle to make a living mattered not one iota to them.

So as we move on into November and my fields become increasingly waterlogged, I find myself with more than half of my finished cattle still waiting to be sold.

This time last year all my finished cattle were long gone. Hearing reports that some farmers are being told that it could be well into January before their cattle will be processed does little to ease my worries!

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In the midst of all this chaos what I find deeply disconcerting is the deafening silence from our farming organisations. They must surely be well aware of the huge problems their members are experiencing? Why the silence?

It surely couldn't be that our farming representatives don't have sufficient moral courage to call a spade a spade and tell all farmers and also the general public that farmers with finished cattle ready to sell are now facing a crisis of mammoth proportions directly as a consequence of the factory blockades.

Even though it is already too late for some, an immediate meeting of the Beef Task Force should be convened with the first item on the agenda being, 'How to dispose of the crippling backlog of finished cattle caused by the blockades?'

The Government must put structures in place without delay to encourage beef processors to radically increase their throughput of cattle.

Extra funding would of course be required to cover the costs involved in the processing and storage of this extra beef.

While this could prove quite embarrassing to those members of the Task Force directly responsible for the blockades, the Government must secure this funding somewhere - quickly.

Time is certainly not on our side, as well as the hardship which last autumn's protests continue to inflict on farmers, it looks increasingly likely that a huge animal welfare issue may also arise.

In the meantime back on my farm, as I have already explained things are not going well at all. However, as I study the returns of the cattle already sold some interesting trends are beginning to emerge.

For instance my average price so far this year is about 25c/kg back on last year's average, which itself was about 8c/kg less than the previous year's price.

This means that since 2017 the price I get for my cattle has fallen by well over €100 per head.

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