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Sunday 18 February 2018

Numbers of quality cattle making top grade at lowest for a decade

Roscommon Mart - celebrating 58 years in business. Putting on the lot numbers. Photo Brian Farrell
Roscommon Mart - celebrating 58 years in business. Putting on the lot numbers. Photo Brian Farrell
Angus Woods

Martin Ryan

The percentage of prime beef cattle making strong grades at the factories has plummeted to the lowest in more than a decade, with the fall-off costing producers millions in lower prices.

One in every eight of the beef steer kill for the first half of 2017 were P grade and almost two in every three steers were classified O or P grades an analysis by the Farming Independent of composite national classification figures reveals.

Producers supplying continental beef animals to the factories have described grading as being "fierce tough", and have called an immediate review of the Quality Pricing System (QPS).

An independent appeals system for farmers on grading and extra supervision at the factories by the Department of Agriculture is also being demanded.

The penalty on P grade is over €100/hd less than base price for the typical weight steer.

Official grading returns, released by the Department of Agriculture, confirm that there has been a 100pc increase in P grade steers compared to the same period in 2012.

O grade animals are up by 20pc, and R and U grade have declined by 35pc and 26pc respectively.

The official figures reveal that more than 20pc of the entire steers supplied over the six months were classified P grade at four individual factories.

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Heifer grading has also deteriorated, but at a lesser rate than the steers. The P grade heifers are 47pc higher than 2012, with O grade up by 19pc while the R's are down by 16pc.

Noel Woulfe, a former member of the IFA livestock committee and finisher of continental Limousin cattle, described grading this year as "fierce tough in my experience".

"Grading has changed and it has got a lot more severe. It is very hard now to get a good grade for the best of cattle. We have to get answers as to why it has happened, because the cattle are improving all the time and they are being finished better, " he said.

However, a spokesperson for Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said that the increasing dairy influence starting to come through in the overall kill throughput could be having some effect and would perhaps explain the figures.

However it would be necessary to examine the breed make up of kill before specific conclusions could be drawn.

ICMSA beef chair Michael Guinan said that he is not surprised because "anyone who hadn't noticed this trend couldn't have been paying attention". He criticised the QPS claiming that it had been "designed from 'Day One' to benefit the factories and systematically disadvantage farmers".

Despite rising numbers of cattle coming off the expanding dairy herd, Mr Guinan said the quality of animals being supplied to factories has "never been higher".

He said that the 225 box grid system is "over-complicated in a way that we felt was deliberately done to confuse even the most experienced farmers and throw them off when it came to calculating the value of their animals".

IFA livestock chair Angus Woods attributed the changes to "the reduction in the live export of calves in 2015, the increase in dairy cow numbers and reduction in carcase weights".

He added that the IFA has consistently demanded that the Agriculture Minister Michael Creed needs to instruct Agriculture Officers (AO's) in the meat plants to constantly monitor carcase classification, trim and weights to ensure farmers are getting accurate returns and farmers also need an independent appeals system.

Comparing results with the first half of 2008 - a decade ago - the P grade steers were 65pc higher in 2017, while R grade were lower by 37pc.

Comparison for heifers show that P grade heifers were 47pc higher this year, and O grade are 11.3pc higher. The R grades have declined by 14pc but U grade have almost trebled from 5.6pc in 2008 to 15.4pc in 2017.


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