Review of grid expected as quality beef cattle kill collapses

Grid review high on the agenda as talks kick off between meat factories, farmers and department

Farmers ringside at Castlerea Mart. Photo Brian Farrell
Farmers ringside at Castlerea Mart. Photo Brian Farrell

Martin Ryan and Margaret Donnelly

THE quality of the national beef kill continues to decline, according to new data from the Department of Agriculture.

Close to 60pc of bullocks killed in the first six months of this year graded O/P and were hit with penalties of up to 54c/kg.

Industry sources blame it on an increase in the amount of dairy-bred stock in the national kill.

The Beef Plan Movement, which began negotiations with the meat processors and Department officials yesterday, is demanding a review of the beef grid to ensure higher quality cattle receive a price "reflective of the increased meat yield".

Its understood talks between the Beef Plan, farming organisations, Meat Industry Ireland and Department officials which adjourned late last night were expected to agree a review of the grid with progress made on market transparency and the introduction of a price index.

However, the Farming Independent understands that several issues remain outstanding including factory weighing scales, written contract between farmers and factories and issues surrounding 30 month age restriction.

It is expected that the talks will re-convene on Thursday or Monday next.

Cattle Quality

The Department figures show that since the introduction of the current beef classification grid a decade ago, the percentage of R grade steers in the national kill has declined from 42.5pc to 30.2pc.

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O grades have increased from 41.7pc to 48.2pc, while the most significant change has been in P grade steers, which have increased from 7.6pc in 2009 to 11.5pc.

Over the same period, the percentage of R grade heifers in the national kill has dropped from 54.7pc to 48pc, while O grades have dropped from 35.7pc to 30.4pc. The proportion of P-grade heifers has more than doubled, increasing from 3.3pc to 8.1pc.

The statistics show that average carcase weights have increased for the higher quality grades in both steers and heifers, while O/P grade carcase weights have dropped by up to 10kg. According to the figures, heifers fared better with just under 39pc classified as O/P grades during the first six months of this year.

One in every two heifers killed did not make the base grade or better and were subject to price penalties.

The talks came after a compromise saw the Beef Plan Movement suspend its two-week protest action at the meat factories, and the factories lifted the threat of legal action against the Beef Plan Movement leaders.

The agenda for the meeting included an overview of the meat market and a Department analysis of the strategic challenges facing the beef sector.

Other issues on the table were the quality payment system and carcass classification, market transparency, implementation of the EU’s unfair trading practices directive and the role of beef producer groups.

‘Suckler-versus-dairy’ issue

In its 13-point action plan, the Beef Plan Movement has called for a review of the fixed-price differentiation between grades.

It says “farmers that produce carcasses that fall within the U and E grades do not receive a price difference that is reflective of the increased meat yield associated with these animals —thereby their stock is devalued relative to lower grading animals”.

However, ICMSA says attempts to present the beef price crisis as a ‘suckler-versus-dairy’ issue is at variance with the facts and ignores more fundamental questions about the defects in the payment system, particularly in defects in the QPS grid.

According to the figures from the Department of Agriculture, the average carcase weights have increased for the higher quality grades in both steers and heifers, while O/P grade carcase weights have dropped by up to 10kg.

Quality assurance (QA) bonus figures are not available for the percentage of the kill which qualified for the QA bonus payment of 12c/kg which requires the animal to meet a number of criteria other than grade.

The average carcass weights for O/P grade steers and heifers are also showing a downward trend in the Department figures. Meat industry sources claim the drop in quality is largely due to the influence of the dairy herd in the national kill with the swing from suckler to dairy farming since the removal of the milk quota in 2015.

The talks came after a compromise saw the Beef Plan Movement suspend its two-week protest action at the meat factories, and the factories lifted the threat of legal action against the Beef Plan Movement leaders.

Indo Farming


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