Fate of price grid hangs in balance
Growing farmer anger threatening to derail QPS initiative
The quality payment system (QPS) for cattle was hanging in the balance this week as growing farmer anger threatened to scupper the initiative.
There is mounting pressure on the IFA to back away from supporting the payment system, which the association agreed with the factories before Christmas.
IFA president John Bryan has been called on to have the scheme "scrapped immediately" and there was strident criticism of the manner in which the payment mechanism was agreed and implemented at a number of recent farmer meetings.
The QPS was rejected by farmers at meetings in Limerick, Laois and Mayo over the past week.
However, one leading factory boss warned farmers that it would be impossible to agree another payment mechanism if the QPS was abandoned.
Paul Nolan, of Dawn Meats, repeated the factory position that the QPS was designed to reward quality and provide signals for beef producers based on the type of animal that was required by consumers and retailers.
Speaking at an ICMSA meeting in Abbeyleix, Co Laois, on Sunday, he said getting all parties in the beef sector to agree an alternative payment system could not be guaranteed.
"If we lose this opportunity then we will not get another one for some time," Mr Nolan maintained.
However, ICMSA president Jackie Cahill claimed that an analysis of last year's kill showed that farmers would have lost between €13m and €16m had the cattle been bought on the grid.
He called for the QPS to be run in parallel with the old grading system for 12 months so that farmers could get used to it and difficulties could be ironed out.
Speaking at the Limerick IFA AGM, Mr Bryan said that the association had put a list of demands to Meat Industry Ireland (MII) regarding the grid, the rejection of which would be a "deal breaker" for the IFA.
The concessions agreed by MII last week have not eased farmer anger and the future of the system now hangs in the balance.
Mr Bryan confirmed that 90pc of calls being made by farmers to himself, the association chief executive, livestock section, development officers and county chairman are complaints about the grid.
"I had nothing to do with the introduction of the grid because I was canvassing in the election at the time it was brought in, but I know that the intention was that it would be cash neutral for producers," Mr Bryan told the Limerick IFA meeting.
"From the anger on the ground it is obvious there are problems. The biggest single problem has been that it was handled disastrously," Mr Bryan admitted.
"The IFA were in discussion with Teagasc, Department of Agriculture and meat factories about a quality payment, but we wanted it brought in gradually," he explained.
"The initial plan was that farmers would have the old system and the new system running side by side for a few months and then, for a further period, farmers would have the option and that it would be gradually phased in and we could deal with the problems.
"But, instead, the meat factories took the decision to bring it in.
"We said that we would stay in negotiations with them to solve the obvious problems," Mr Bryan explained.
He accepted that, given the level of farmer rejection of the grid, he could end up asking people to stop supplying cattle.
While the big three processors -- AIBP, Kepak and Dawn Meats -- are holding to the new grid, there is growing evidence that independent plants are buying on and off the payment system despite the kill running well ahead of last year's levels.
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