Speaking at the Teagasc Beef Open day in Grange in Co Meath today, IFA President Eddie Downey said there is real anger and frustration on the ground among the country’s 100,000 livestock farmers over the income crisis in the beef sector.
He said it is incredible that the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney would indicate that he is powerless and can do nothing with the meat factories over the way they are abusing farmers on the Quality payment system and beef specifications cuts. In addition, Eddie Downey said the Minister must address the lack of progress in removing the roadblocks impeding the live trade to Northern Ireland, vital for price competition.
Eddie Downey said farmers do not accept that the Minister is powerless with the factories. He said, “The Minister must address this issue immediately in order to restore confidence before more damage is inflicted on producers”.
The IFA President said Teagasc needed to immediately undertake a full and proper analysis of the implications of the beef specification cuts being implemented by the factories on farmers and the Irish beef sector. He said the factory proposal to impose a 380kg carcase weight limit will have a devastating impact on our quality suckler cow herd. In addition Teagasc need to highlight the facts around the uneconomic returns and unsuitability of under-16 month bull beef systems being promoted by the factories in our grass-based, production systems.
Eddie Downey said farmers are concerned with the changes to the Teagasc blueprint on suckling along the lines they have introduced in the Derrypatrick herd in Grange. He cautioned against abrupt changes to production systems and breeds.
The IFA President said farmers had learned a very expensive lesson from the experience of following the lead from factories two years ago where they were strongly encouraged to keep their dairy bred calves for bull beef production. He said the reality this spring was the same factories walked away from buying these cattle at a viable price and farmers suffered severe financial losses.
Eddie Downey also called on Teagasc to undertake a major communication programme with livestock farmers through marts, meat plants, farmer meetings, and discussion groups across all of the key areas on research, production and marketing in order to improve efficiency and incomes.
IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said livestock farmers have encountered severe financial losses this spring and can take no more. He said its time Minister Coveney stood up for livestock farmers and restored some confidence back into the sector. He said 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 the facts that livestock farm incomes are down 13% to 22% last year, at extremely low levels ranging from €9,469 to €15,595.”
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. Across a full year a price reduction 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.