Speaking outside the Department of Agriculture in Dublin today (Tuesday), IFA President Eddie Downey said the protest highlights the frustration of livestock farmers with the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney over his failure to tackle the meat factories on the beef crisis and the imposition of severe and unfair specifications.
Eddie Downey said, “The Minister has either taken his eye off the ball or does not understand the severity of the situation”. He called on Simon Coveney to focus on his current job as Minister for Agriculture and address two key issues raised at the most recent Beef Forum: specifically the abuse of farmers on the Quality Payment system and removing the roadblocks impeding the live trade to Northern Ireland.
“Farmers believe that Minister Coveney has been sleepwalking through this beef crisis. They are angry that he seems distracted about his possible future role in Cabinet rather than dealing with issues that are putting their livelihoods under threat.”
IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said livestock farmers have suffered severe financial losses this spring and can take no more. “It’s time Minister Coveney stood up for livestock farmers and restored some confidence back into the sector. Farmers are sick and tired listening to the Minister telling everybody how good things are and singing the praises of the processing industry, when beef prices have plummeted and livestock farm incomes are on the floor. Teagasc recently confirmed that livestock farm incomes are down 13% to 22% last year, at extremely low levels ranging from €9,469 to €15,595.”
Henry Burns said it is totally unacceptable the way the factories had torn up the Quality Payment System since last Autumn using dual pricing and unfair specifications to undermine prices and market returns. “Minister Coveney must deal with this fundamental issue and have it corrected without any further delay, if his Beef Forum initiative is to have any credibility with farmers. Michael Dowling’s report made it clear at the Forum that the QPS should operate as originally agreed and it is now up to the Minister to ensure this happens.”
In addition, the Livestock Chairman said the lack of urgency and progress on removing the roadblocks impeding the live trade to Northern Ireland was totally unacceptable. He said, “Michael Dowling’s report to the Forum also has made it clear that this is a political issue; Minister Coveney must be much more proactive and focused in resolving this issue”.
Compared to this time last year, beef prices are down 15% to 20%. Steer prices are down 70c/kg, which is equivalent to €280 per head on a 400kg animal. A price reduction across the year of this magnitude, discounting for increased supplies, would amount to a massive reduction of €370m in the value of beef output and exports.
Henry Burns said the failure of Minister Coveney to challenge the factories on the beef price and specification issues at the Beef Forum is being used by the factories as a licence to drive on and implement these severe cuts across the board. He said the Minister is allowing the factories to get away with imposing totally unfair and unnecessary cuts on farmers.
The IFA Livestock leader said “At this stage, farmers see a Minister that is more focused on the next job than tackling the factories on the beef issues. Farmers are extremely frustrated and cannot accept that the Minister for Agriculture is powerless in this situation.”