Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Inaccurate grading is a major worry

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The Department's admission that mechanical grading machines produced wrong results for many cattle killed at export plants last year is worrying.

According to figures released by the Department, around 9pc of conformation grades and 7.5pc of fat score readings were not accurate.

Since the machines were probably wrong on both counts in some instances, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the fat scores or conformation grades of around 14pc of the kill were incorrect.

It is not clear whether the grades and fat scores allocated to the incorrectly classified carcasses were better or worse than they should have been.

Industry specialists say the grading machines have a tendency to underestimate conformation and fat score. Consequently, farmers would be likely to win on incorrect fat scores but lose on conformation.

Indeed, across the full kill, it could be argued that pros and cons of the system balance out.

But that is not the point. The whole concept of mechanical grading was that it would be consistent and accurate. And in any business, 91pc accuracy is not acceptable even if it is within EU guidelines.

It has to be admitted that the grading discrepancies are unlikely to have cost farmers money in 2009, but the same cannot be said of this year.

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The introduction of the quality payment system (QPS) means there is precise price differentiation across the grid. As a consequence, any shortcomings in grading has the potential to translate into incorrect pricing.

With beef finishers struggling to break even on stock this spring, taking a chance on the vagaries of mechanical graders is not an option.

Since the grading machines are licensed by the Department, the responsibility for sorting out this problem rests with them.

Either the accuracy of the grading machines is improved, or the Department takes on board the ICSA suggestion and reinstates trained graders to reassess disputed carcass grades.

Irish Independent