Department and Teagasc U-turn on beef grid review

ICMSA president John Comer
ICMSA president John Comer
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The Department of Agriculture and Teagasc have insisted they will not be party to a renegotiation of the Quality Payment System (QPS) for beef cattle.

A reassessment of the QPS was a key plank of last November's Beef Roundtable package, where it was agreed that a full review of the grid would be carried out and completed "with the assistance of Teagasc" before the middle of 2015.

However, this week the Department and Teagasc both denied they had a lead role to play in any such review.

"The impetus for any review must come from the stakeholders who jointly agreed the current system, namely the farming organisations and beef processors. Teagasc remains available to provide the necessary assistance to this process," a Department statement said.

"If there are to be changes made to the QPS grid payment system, this is to be negotiated between the meat processors and the farm organisations. If they need Teagasc to do something to help this process they are to request that help from Teagasc," a Teagasc spokesman pointed out.

However, the 'hands off' approach adopted by the Department and Teagasc has been criticised by the ICSA and ICMSA.

Both organisations pointed out that the Roundtable Agreement was brokered by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, and that the minister had an obligation to deliver the QPS review.

ICMSA president John Comer said his association had written to both Minister Coveney and Teagasc regarding the review.

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He said it needed to "commence immediately", adding that farmers "expected to see progress" and were "concerned" the review process appeared to have stalled.

The beef QPS, which was originally negotiated between the factories and IFA, was widely blamed for contributing to beef farmer losses last year, as penalties on cattle weights and ages unilaterally introduced by the factories hit beef finisher returns.

"Despite the fact that beef prices have improved in 2015, it would be very naive to believe that the problems of the beef sector have gone away," Mr Comer said.

"If the Beef Roundtable is to mean anything, farmers do expect delivery on the beef grid review. This was a key commitment under the agreement and the parties involved cannot continue to ignore it," he added.

The lack of urgency in carrying out the QPS review was also criticised by ICSA president Edmond Phelan, who expressed concern at the "slippage" in delivering the Roundtable commitments.

"Many farmers are not happy with the QPS system and the way in which it has been utilised to deprive farmers of a quality assurance bonus," Mr Phelan said.

"Farmers must have the option of being paid outside of the grid but still be eligible for the quality bonus where applicable. This needs to be looked at in the context of the Beef Roundtable talks," the ICSA president said.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said it was committed to the QPS review as agreed at the Roundtable.

However, a spokesman said that any review could only take place when concessions to the original agreemen, which allowed cattle of fat score 4= and 4+ to qualify for the 12c/kg quality bonus, were removed.

"Any review must be of the original QPS," he said.

When asked if the IFA supported a review of the QPS, a statement from the organisation pointed out that it was "very determined" that Minister Coveney delivered on the full implementation of the issues agreed at the Beef Forum.

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