Farm Ireland

Friday 14 December 2018

'Organic beef market is heading for over-supply'

Andrew Doyle TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine with Gemma and Tom Dunne on their farm at Ballinaslee, Durrow, Co Laois
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

There are signs that Ireland's organic beef sector is hitting a log-jam.

"The organic beef market is oversupplied at the moment and there is a backlog of two months in getting cattle into Good Herdsmen," the company's procurement officer Rory Callanan said at last week's organic farm walk hosted by Tom and Gemma Dunne in Durrow, Co Laois.

However, an organic farmer attending the walk, who did not wish to be named because the sector is so small, told the Farming Independent, that he has heard of backlogs of several months.

There are only two processors of organic beef cattle in the country, Good Herdsman and Slaney Foods, which means ABP has a major share in the organic market.

In the discussion on the farm, another farmer pointed out that many organic store cattle are currently being "lost" from the system, that there is not enough of a price premium on stores to prevent them from leaking into the conventional sector.

He expressed particular concern for new entrants, who have gone organic in the past few years.

The sector has recently seen a large influx of new entrants. Some 600 farmers began converting to organic in 2015, bringing the total number of organic farmers in Ireland to 1,800. About 70pc of the total are cattle farmers.

But Rory Callanan said the backlog is partly a seasonal thing, that there is always a build-up at this time of year, as some farmers have limited overwintering facilities.

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The current price is 4.65/kg and it is generally about 15-20pc over the price of conventional beef.

Mr Callanan said Good Herdsmen handles about 120 cattle/week and Slaney about 45.

Add in online sales, Farmers Markets and so on and he figures the total weekly kill is about 200 head.

The demand is for heifers of 250-320kg carcase and steers of 280-380kg "anything heavier is a No No", adding, "it's a niche product; heavier carcases means that the cuts are too big and people won't buy them.

"There is no place in organics for bulls, as they have to be fed 'full' ration and that does not work with the system."

As for cows, he said that they had been tried in the UK but had "brought down the market" so they are staying away from them.

In response to a question as to why they are not killing more cattle, Mr Callanan pointed out that, while there is a huge demand for some cuts, the entire carcase has to be sold.

However, industry sources differ about whether the backlog is primarily due to inadequate market demand, inadequate processing capacity or lack of competition for supplies.

The event was attended by Minister of State Andrew Doyle, who launched Teagasc's new edition of "Guidelines for Successful Organic Beef Production".

This was the first of 12 organic farm walks organised by Teagasc in conjunction with the Department, across a range of enterprises, that will take place between now and next July.

These will include dairy, poultry, horticulture and crops, where one obvious area for growth is the production of feed for organic livestock.

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