Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 26 April 2018

Cattle 'glut' looming warn farm leaders

ICMSA's Edmond Phelan
ICMSA's Edmond Phelan

Louise Hogan and Gavin McLoughlin

The future of Ireland's bull beef sector and concerns over a potential glut of cattle at the factory gates late next year will be key issues at today's crunch Beef Forum meeting.

Other topics expected to be raised will be the controversial 30-month cut off point and the quality payment system (QPS) for cattle.

"We have to go back to some of the key issues raised in the initial beef roundtable talks that haven't been resolved," said ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch.

The ICSA's beef chairman Edmond Phelan said he would be raising serious concerns over the "profitability" of the cattle industry, describing as "madness" the prices that are being paid for average-quality cattle in marts at the moment.

He warned that with over 100,000 extra calves on the ground this year there would be a "huge glut" of cattle destined for the factories unless more were exported abroad.

"We could be facing into a worse price in '16 or early '17 than we did in 2014 unless we can get them out live as weanlings. Meat factories will show no mercy if there is a glut in supplies," Mr Phelan said.

Many farmers cut their losses and left the bull beef trade last year due to poor prices

Mr Punch said there was a lot of "unfinished business" on bull beef and many producers lost confidence in the industry last year with tighter specs on bulls at factories.

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"If the future comes with a lot of constraints that make the business unprofitable, then we need to decide how many suckler cows we can afford to have in the country," he said.

Processors are expected to highlight the improvement in the beef market compared with last year and point out that it remains stable.

On the 30-month limit, Mr Punch said that despite the recent case of classic BSE there was still no justification for imposing reduced price payments for cattle over the 30-months and farmers wanted "realistic" age and weight limits".

Another issue expected to be heated at today's meeting of key stakeholders is the quality payment system (QPS) for cattle.

ICMSA president John Comer said they expected to hear significant advances towards a review of the QPS Beef Grid.

Mr Comer said a review had been a key element of last November's agreement that brought farmer blockades of meat plants to an end.

He said they expected the minister to give details of the make-up of the promised review body and a timeframe for a report.

The IFA's spokesman Henry Burns said the minister must increase beef exports to countries such as the US and China, with early sales of prime cuts to the US market described as "slow".

Food Wise 2025

Meanwhile, Mr Punch said discussions about expanding the output of Ireland Inc have increased following the recent Food Wise 2025 strategy.

"You'd have to say at the moment the future for beef could not be about expansion in the absence of markets," he said.

Bord Bia has highlighted that a recent Rabobank report has pinpointed that annual demand in the Chinese market for tonnes of beef is expected to grow from 8m to 10.2m by 2025.

Processors are expected to put pressure on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who will be chairing the session, to commit additional resources to Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture to work on the opening of markets in China and the ongoing work in the US.

Mr Coveney said the industry will need to be "patient" with the Chinese market, which is due to open to Irish beef by the end of the year.

"I'm very confident that that will be done at some stage in the next six months," he said, with a technical inspection team from China due to visit Irish factories in the next few months.

Mr Coveney said he still expected the US market to also open its doors to Irish processed beef products such as mince by the end of the year.

Indo Farming