In what he described as a very tough and frank Beef Forum meeting, IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney made it very clear to the meat factories at last week’s meeting that there can be no dual base pricing for steers or heifers in individual processing plants by breed, age, weight or quality assurance status under the Quality Payment System (QPS). Henry Burns said it is very clear in the Beef Forum outcomes that there can be no weight penalties under the QPS and it is up to the Minister to insist that the factories honour this.
Henry Burns said IFA made the unacceptable and widening gap between Irish and UK cattle prices along with the issue of price competition and weights, the key issues for farmers at the Beef Forum meeting. He said it is clear from the evidence presented by Bord Bia to the Minister, farmers and factories at the meeting, that cattle prices should rise to reflect the much stronger returns from our largest export market. He said winter finishers are in a loss-making situation and this position is unsustainable.
Bord Bia pointed out to the meeting that the average Irish/UK price gap for 2015 has widened to 82c/kg and is currently well over €1.00/kg. The meeting was also informed that this compares to an average of 27c/kg over the 10 years from 2004 to 2013. Bord Bia also pointed out that the exchange rate with sterling is 10% more favourable for Irish exporters this year, which is worth over 50c/kg.
When questioned by IFA and Minister Coveney at the meeting neither the factories or Bord Bia could provide any valid explanation on the widening price gap between Irish and UK cattle prices. Against this background, Henry Burns said Minister Coveney must take action and address the real issue of competition, particularly in light of recent developments for more mergers and acquisitions in the beef processing sector. In addition he said Minister Coveney has to be much more active in supporting the live export trade and securing access to our nearest and highest priced market in Northern Ireland and Britain. He said it is utterly unacceptable that Irish livestock farmers are being denied price competition through the manipulation of EU labelling rules by processors and retailers.
Henry Burns said IFA also raised important issues on market access, trade deals and climate change at the Beef Forum which was chaired by Minister Coveney. He said the Minister promised again that there will be a breakthrough for Ireland on access for manufacturing beef to the US market and on access to China for Beef early in 2016.
On Producer Organisations, Henry Burns said IFA made it clear to Minister Coveney that any new legislation must provide flexibility to ensure that both small and large groups of farmers can operate, marts must be fully accommodated and supported to act as POs and there must be adequate funding to prime and support groups, particularly in the start-up phase.