The beef and livestock sector is the very heartbeat of rural Ireland and must be defended and secured in the face of major challenges, IFA President Joe Healy said today at the AIB Tullamore Show.
Joe Healy said the sector accounts for €6.6 billon in overall output with an economic impact spread across every rural parish in the country.
However, the IFA President warned that there are major challenges facing the Irish beef sector ranging from Brexit, the Mercosur trade deal, CAP reform to falling cattle prices and unacceptably low incomes for farmers.
“It has never been more important that our new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, along with Agriculture Minister Michael Creed show strong political leadership in defending the sector. Equally, every section of the industry from farmers to factories, and all others involved in the business, must play their part in a united and responsible way to secure a viable future for the sector,” Joe Healy said.
On Brexit, Joe Healy said the Government must keep farming and the agriculture sector firmly at the top of the agenda in Dublin and Brussels. He said the beef sector, with 260,000 tonnes of exports to the UK, is particularly exposed and must be fully protected.
The IFA President said the reality is livestock farmers rely very heavily on CAP direct payments for their income. He said Agriculture Minister Michael Creed must demand an increase in the CAP budget in Brussels. Direct payments must be fully protected and increased for suckler cows, in line with the proposals from the IFA.
There is a real test emerging in Brussels this October on beef in the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations, Joe Healy said.
He said an EU impact assessment has shown that Mercosur could have a very damaging impact on the Irish beef sector and there must be full support for Minister Creed’s position that beef is excluded from any Mercosur deal.
Beef price squeezing out any change of profit
IFA National Livestock Chairman Angus Woods said weekly beef price cuts at the meat factories must stop as they are squeezing out any chance of profit for farmers grazing cattle this year. He said €80 per head had been knocked off cattle prices over the last four weeks and this is costing farmers €2m per week.
Angus Woods said the price cuts are eroding confidence at farm level, where average beef farm incomes were only €16,853 in 2016, including direct payments.
He said the factory price cuts are not justified based on market returns, pointing out that cattle prices in our main market in the UK are equivalent to €4.39/kg. In addition, he said there is no beef in stock. EU and international markets are stronger than last year and hide and offal returns are also higher. Last year, there was a serious overhang of beef from the cull in the EU dairy sector, which is not the case this year. Cattle numbers will be much tighter than originally forecast due to the higher kill earlier this year, increased live exports and lower carcase weights.