Majority of steers fail to make basic grade

Martin Ryan

Almost two out of every three steers being slaughtered at the beef export plants are now failing to make the base classification grades,  the latest official figures have revealed.

The grading results were compiled from the Department of Agriculture figures on the entire throughput of steers at the export factories between July 1 and September 30, 2017, which was an excellent production period for beef animals.  

The grading was carried out on more than 200,000 head of steers supplied during the third quarter of 2017. The results showed that 61pc of the steers slaughtered over the period had failed to make any of the base price grades which ranges from R=/2+ to R-/4=.

On a typical 350kg carcase, the penalty varies between 12c/kg and 36c/kg, reducing the return to producers by between €42 and €126/hd, with the poorer grading also adding to a further reduction of €42/hd under the in-spec bonus for some categories.

The ICMSA have called for factories to supply farmers with a digitised image of the carcase for each of the animals on the day of slaughter.

ICMSA beef chairman Michael Guinan said the drop in grades cannot be explained “simply in terms of the increased dairy influence” adding that “there is ongoing disquiet around the accuracy of grading machines themselves”.

 He said the “ images of the carcases should be provided to the farmer on the day of slaughter” along with images  of animals making the specific grades for comparison.

Ireland South MEP Sean Kelly has called for an “overhaul” of the grading system, describing farmers as “totally frustrated” with the system of grading.

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ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan said serious cattle producers are “getting disillusioned” with the accuracy of grading machines in some factories. “With the increase in dairy sourced calves, it is likely that this will get worse before it gets better.”

He added: “The current grading machines are outdated technology and there are many who believe that they are not working accurately and that they need replacing.”

IFA beef chairman Angus Woods told farmers in Co Limerick that there is a “lack of transparency within the beef industry”.

“Dairy farmers know within a cent or two the value of milk and can take out a five year fixed price contract. Beef farmers cannot get a five day assurance on price and it is very hard to build an industry on that” he said.

Meat Industry Ireland’s Cormac Healy said the Department constantly monitor grading and the carcase classification system operates to a “very high level of accuracy and consistency”.

Bord Bia’s Joe Burke said that there has been a big increase in the number of Hereford and Angus progeny off the dairy herd in the kill this year and average carcase weight had dropped by up to 5kg. He said that throughput for the year to date is up 75,000hd and in line with expectations.

Mr Burke said factories have experienced strong market demand throughout the year and prices to producers have remained stronger than 2016.

He predicted that it is not likely that any significant tightening in the supply of cattle will take place for the rest of 2017.

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