IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney must take action to address the lack of competition in the beef sector, which is set to be compounded with the proposed ABP investment in Slaney/ICM meat group. At a briefing session with politicians in Dublin today, the IFA National Livestock leader said Minister Coveney must tackle the unacceptable price gap that has opened up between Irish and British cattle prices and remove the obstacles inhibiting the live export trade to Northern Ireland and Britain.
Henry Burns said, “At the most recent Beef Forum meeting chaired by the Minister, Bord Bia confirmed that the average Irish/UK price gap for 2015 has widened to 82c/kg or €293 per head. This compares to an average of 27c/kg (€97) from 2004 to 2013”.
Based on the market data provided by Bord Bia at the Forum, Minister Coveney concluded that cattle prices should rise from their current levels of €3.90/3.95 for steers and €4.00/4.05 for heifers, to reflect the higher returns from our main export market in the UK. Bord Bia also pointed out that the exchange rate with sterling was 10% more favourable for Irish exporters in 2015, which was worth over 50c/kg.
Henry Burns called on Minister Coveney to be much more supportive of the live export trade and secure uninhibited access to our nearest and highest-priced market in Northern Ireland and Britain. “It is the Minister’s responsibility to ensure that Irish farmers and exporters have full access to the EU single market. In this regard, he must resolve the EU labelling issues that are being used by processors and retailers to impede the live export trade and price competition.” In addition, the Minister must also lead the drive to open live markets to Egypt, Libya and Turkey.
Henry Burns said livestock farmers have real fears and concerns around the lack of competition and dominance in beef processing as well as rendering with the proposed sale of the Allen family 50% share of the Slaney/ICM business to ABP. This investment would give ABP effective control of up to 28% of the beef kill and three of the six rendering plants in the country. ICM has up to 40% of the lamb kill, and lamb processing also needs more competition.
While the investment will be subject to clearance by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CPCC), the IFA is insisting that the Government makes a submission to the CCPC through the Minister for Agriculture on the importance of guaranteeing competition in processing and rendering for farmers. He said IFA has been in contact with the CCPC and will be making a submission on the matter.
On specifications, Henry Burns said Minister Coveney made it very clear to the factories at the last Beef Forum 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). With some factories imposing price cuts based on carcase weight, Henry Burns said the Minister has to stand up to the factories and insist that they honour the Beef Forum and QPS agreements.
He said restrictions on carcase weight would seriously damage our important suckler cow herd and our best quality cattle. Carcase weights in Ireland are below levels in the UK, Italy, France and Germany. The Minister must immediately appoint Department Agricultural Officers (AO’s) to be present on the kill line and have responsibility for monitoring carcase trim and classification in the meat plants.
IFA is seeking additional direct payments to support the suckler cow herd, to reach €200 per cow/year. In addition he said the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) must be available to all suckler farmers and requires greater flexibility on the six-year rule, reduced genotyping, accommodation of 3, 4 and 5 star animals and stocking rates.
IFA National Sheep Chairman John Lynskey said sheep farmers are equally concerned over competition and dominance in lamb processing with the ABP investment in Irish Country Meats (ICM). He added ICM currently has up to 40% of the lamb kill with their two plants in Camolin, Co Wexford and Navan, Co Meath.
On increased supports for the sheep sector, John Lynskey said IFA is seeking a targeted payment of €20 per ewe in order to maintain and support the national sheep flock. He said this is a key priority in the IFA submission to political parties and Dáil candidates for the 2016 General Election.