What key stakeholders want to see for the future of the beef sector

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Last week, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched a report containing a series of recommendations to protect the future of the Irish beef sector.

As revealed by the Farming Independent, the headline proposals include getting an EU quality mark for Irish suckler beef and reviewing the impact of feedlots.

In all, the committee received 25 submissions, and heard from 16 stakeholder organisations, over seven days of hearings.

Below we detail some of the more interesting proposals from the key stakeholders in the industry:

IFA

The IFA is recommending that the Minister for Agriculture and the Joint Committee on Agriculture requests the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to undertake an analysis and report on the lack of competition in the Irish beef processing sector.

"There is a real lack of competition in the beef cattle price in Ireland that needs to be addressed," the IFA said.

"The more powerful retailers and meat factory groups dictate the pace on cattle price at the expense of the farmer.

"While the Minister for Agriculture constantly reminds farmers that he cannot get involved in cattle prices, the Government has a major responsibility to ensure that there is a fair and competitive market for farmers selling cattle in Ireland."

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ICMSA

The ICMSA said Bord Bia's budget had increased substantially in recent years, yet the price paid to farmers for beef has not improved.

"Quite clearly, the Bord Bia strategy needs to be reviewed to establish who in the supply chain is benefiting from these campaigns and what changes are required to ensure the primary producer is adequately rewarded for their efforts," it said.

"Improved beef prices must be returned by the marketplace. This requires transparency in beef pricing at processor and retailer level."

ICSA

The ICSA called for CAP supports to be actively diverted away from dairy herds, especially those dependent on a nitrates derogation.

"It is clear that this is adding a lot of extra supplies of beef to the national kill in terms of extra male cattle and beef cross heifers as well as increased cull cow numbers," it said.

The ICSA claimed that the key problem is the propensity of new and expanding dairy herds (particularly the 100-plus cow herds) to adopt a Jersey and Kiwi cross breeding strategy.

Kiwi cross and Jersey genetics should ideally be phased out, said the ICSA.

"Otherwise the dairy sector will have to be responsible for the cost of handling these worthless calves."

Beef Plan Movement

The Beef Plan Movement called for legislation to ensure farmers receive a minimum of the cost of production plus an inflation-linked margin for their produce.

It wants "the average cost of production of a kg of beef to be established two or more times per year including proper charges for land owned along with capital costs and the cost of the farmer's own labour.

"Farmer representatives agreed by all beef farmers should sign off on these production costs.

"If the 'free' market moves up, then the farmer gets the benefit, and when it falls the legislation is there to provide a safety net for the drop.

"Retail legislation also needs to ensure the primary producer gets his/her fair share of the retail price."

INHFA

The abolition of the 30-month rule was a key point in the hill farmers' submission.

"This rule was introduced at the height of the BSE scare to help reassure consumers.

"BSE is no longer an issue, and other measures currently in place around this are more than adequate to protect and reassure consumers."

It also claimed that there was never a justifiable reason to have introduced the four-movement rule and said that there definitely is not one to maintain it.

Teagasc

Teagasc said only a small proportion of beef farmers are making a net profit per hectare (excluding direct payments).

"There is the potential on a lot of beef farms for improving technical performance," it said.

"Profitable beef farms are constantly adaptive and responsive to research and advisory programmes."

Irish Family Farm Rights Group (IFRG) The IFRG proposed that producer-marketer groups should be set up to represent their members' interests, by collectively negotiating contract-slaughter or farm-gate pricing with the meat processors and live-exporters.

These groups would also engage in own-branding and marketing of members' produce to targeted niche and premium markets.

"Local-level producer-marketer groups should be set up to serve local-level catchment areas, each with their own unique selling points and branding, which could in turn avail of a national level umbrella agency," it said.

Meat Industry Ireland

MII highlighted the need for the Government, with EU support, to put in place robust measure to mitigate the worst effects of a no-deal Brexit, while recognising too that any post-Brexit arrangement will leave the Irish beef sector most exposed and facing additional costs.

Such measures include a relaxation/exemption of EU State Aid Rules to allow for significant investment aid in processing and cold storage.

North East Galway Beef Producer Group

This group called for a suckler cow payment of €200 on the first 20 cows and a further €100 on the next 30 cows. They have also called for CAP payments to be capped at €35,000.

"So for example, if a farmer with 30 cows had a payment of €32,000 then he would only get a suckler cow payment of €3,000, ie paid on first 15 cows only.

"The cost of this we estimate to be under €200m, which is within the budget.

"By paying for the suckler cow in Pillar 1, the farmers' only requirement would be to have the cow… unlike what could occur if she was paid for out of Pillar 2, where a lot more requirements would be needed."

Laois IFA

Laois IFA said that there is a distance emerging between farmers versus Bord Bia and the processors, and said issues like "added value and Origin Green" seem to take priority over farmers' concerns.

"Quality Assurance plays a major role in promoting Irish beef abroad (but) issues like age, residences, and movements are key market requirements with little reward for primary producers.

"The labelling promotion and sales of Irish beef needs to move to a new level and maybe even a new Irish brand," it said, pointing to Kerrygold as a possible template for a beef brand.

Ciaran Moran takes an in-depth look at the submissions to latest report on turning around the beef sector's fortunes

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