Ahead of this afternoon’s Beef Forum, IFA President Eddie Downey said farmers were never more united in their determination that Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney must deliver real results that will see all of the specification issues fully resolved, and increased market returns passed back to farmers.
Eddie Downey said the message from this week’s 48-hour protest, which was strongly supported by thousands of farmers across the country, cannot be ignored by the Minister and the Forum.
Mr Downey said the behaviour of the meat factories this year on specifications and their dealings with farmers has seriously damaged trust. “The beef protest has sent a clear message to meat factory bosses that farmers must be treated fairly and with respect. At today’s Forum, Minister Coveney must ratify all of the progress made on specifications and terms of trade, and commit that the Forum will guarantee that agreements are honoured in full in the future.”
The IFA President said, “At the last Forum two weeks ago, Minister Coveney was very clear that the primary focus of the Forum was ‘to ensure that farmers get a fair reflection of market returns’”. Eddie Downey said the meat factories must address the €350 per head price gap that has now opened up with our main export market in the UK, where beef prices have increased by over 30c/kg in recent months.
On the specification issues that need to be resolved today, Eddie Downey said IFA is demanding that the factories pay a basic Quality Assured bonus on all cattle from a Bord Bia-approved QA farm. He said Minister Coveney has strongly supported this proposal from the IFA and said it would be dealt with at the Forum.
On the issue of the 30 month age limit, Eddie Downey said more progress must be made. “The proposal from last Friday’s meeting is that the Minister for Agriculture, processors and producers together with Bord Bia, will work over the next six months to pursue the objective of increasing the age limit from 30 to 36 months, taking account of production and market factors. In addition it was also agreed to pursue an increase in the number of farm residencies from four farms and have more flexibility under the 70 days final residencies requirement to accommodate mart sales.”
Eddie Downey said full price transparency right along the beef chain is essential. He said farmer prices and retail prices are openly available, but the missing link is the price that factories sell the product to the retailers and food service customers. He pointed that in the USA, the government legally obliges factories to publish these prices. In addition, he said there can be no confusion on cattle price comparisons between EU member states. He said the Department of Agriculture is legally obliged to use the EU standardised beef price reporting system, where the R3 grade is the agreed norm.
The independent chairman Michael Dowling negotiated agreement with the processors that they will participate in a transparent wholesale price index to be published with Bord Bia and DAFM. It was also agreed that the processors will introduce a transparent remittance document and transparent purchase terms for buying cattle from farmers.
At last Friday’s meeting between IFA and the meat factories, it was agreed that the Quality Payment System will be fully reinstated with a single base price per factory for steers and separately for heifers. “This means that there will be no dual base pricing on breeds, weights or additional price penalties on age as was applied for long periods throughout 2014.” In addition, the in spec bonus will be 12c/kg and operate as originally agreed.
On weights, IFA was very clear that there could be no price cuts. The factories proposed no cuts up to 440kgs. Subsequently, it was agreed that no weight limit cuts would apply for a period of 12 months and the issue and impact of carcase weights, particularly for the suckler herd, would be examined with Teagasc, Bord Bia and ICBF, together with the Department of Agriculture.
On the issue of establishing the number of farm residencies for the payment of the 12c in-spec bonus, it was agreed that the AIMS will be adjusted by the Department of Agriculture and used as the method by all factories to count the number of farm residencies.
Eddie Downey said it was agreed that the processors would operate more contracts for winter finishers and bull beef producers.
The IFA President said Michael Dowling also confirmed that it was also agreed that the processors will support the proposals for independent Department of Agriculture inspectors in each meat plant to oversee carcase trim, weights and mechanical classification, including appeals.