Plummeting cattle prices, both at marts and meat plants, look set to drive beef farmers to breaking point this week, as at least one farm organisation called for a prolonged strike both north and south of the Border.
The latest blow to confidence in the sector comes in the form of draconian new requirements being imposed at beef processing plants in Northern Ireland.
From April 1, Northern processors will not accept any animal that has more than four movements in its life.
In addition, Northern plants are to impose a £150 (€183) 'fine' on any Southern animals being killed.
Southern stock are already being discounted heavily, according to many key Northern Irish finishers, who now have thousands of Southern-born stock languishing in their sheds, despite being fit for slaughter.
"They're being referred to as 'nomads', and while this has been talked about since last summer, it's only since December that we've noticed that there is just no interest in Southern stock anymore," said one finisher, who normally buys over 2,000 stores and weanlings in Southern marts annually.
The absence of these Northern buyers has hit prices hard in marts in the northern half of the country.
"Northern men have been the biggest buyers here for centuries," claimed Mohill Mart manager, Stephen Hannon.
"But the trade with the North has virtually closed down. Last Saturday's Monaghan Day sale would normally have seen at least 250 head go North. But the traditional buyers just can't get Southern stock killed. Prices are already back by at least €90/hd here as a result.
"It's a more serious situation than ever and I don't know why the farm organisations like the IFA aren't doing more about it," said Mr Hannon.
However, the Northern farmer group, Farmers For Action (FFA), has called again on the IFA to call an all-Ireland meeting of farm organisations to galvanise farmer action against the beef processors. "We're calling on farmers North and South to boycott factories for two to three weeks from April 1," said FFA spokesman, William Taylor. "Obviously some farmers will have to keep a few animals going to the plants to keep bread on the table, but we're calling on anybody that can afford it to stop supplying the plants for at least two weeks," he said.
Mr Taylor added that there was huge anger among Northern mart operators with the new movement restrictions.
"This is a blatant attempt by the abattoirs to shut down NI's livestock marts in a move to further control beef and lamb prices," he said.
Sources within the Northern beef trade said that the new criteria were being driven by supermarket requirements that changed in the wake of the horsemeat scandal that rocked the processing sector this time last year.