THE Cork secretary of the Beef Plan movement, Helen O’Sullivan did not mince her words when she described the recent Beef Summit as a ‘talking shop.’
Industry leaders failed to deliver anything of substance for beef farmers, Ms O’Sullivan maintained, and said that ‘more is required from Minister Creed and industry executives at a time when beef farming and rural Ireland are on life support.’
Eight hundred members of the Beef Plan movement joined Cork committee members for a protest march outside the Farmers Journal Beef Summit in Ballinasloe Co Galway. The summit itself was attended by approximately 1,300 farmers, with most of them answering the call to action made by the Beef Plan movement.
The Beef Plan farmers marched from the town centre car park, down the main street towards the Shearwater Hotel where the summit took place. There was a large media presence at the protest.
The speakers lined up for the summit were all the major players in the Irish beef sector. It included Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland, Tara McCarthy of Bord Bia, Michael Wallace of UCD, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed TD and the ICBF. Farmers were disappointed that the retail sector was not represented on the panel.
It seems that the speakers were left in absolutely no doubt that farmers are not happy with the current state of the beef industry, and the paltry price being paid to farmers for their top-quality cattle. There was a heated questions and answers session with farmers demanding more answers than the speakers could provide.
Farmers pressed the executives of Bord Bia on the perceived lack of delivery in the marketing of Irish beef abroad, lack of robust competition and demanded that Minister Creed move to eliminate these restrictions such as the 70-day rule, the 30 months rule and the four movement rule, and the needless 125km distance restriction on movement of Category 1 waste.
When Cormac Healy of MII (representing the meat factories) announced from the podium his belief that the value of the fifth quarter (hide and offal) was already incorporated into the base price for beef, he was met with a fiery reaction from the farmers in the room: John Flaherty, a Beef Plan farmer from Castleisland in Kerry said ‘Cormac Healy says farmers were being paid for the fifth quarter. I’m glad he thinks that because he’s the only one in the room who thinks this.’
Mr Healy produced a graph to show that Irish R3 steers had achieved the average European price over the past 10 years. This figure was refuted by Eoin Donnelly (Beef Plan) as the comparison was clearly made with European R3 bull beef. The fact is that Irish R3 steers have commanded a lower price than equivalent European steer prices over the past 10 years, he said.
However there was a softening in MII stance as Cormac Healy acknowledged that higher-grade cattle were not achieving an appropriate premium, which reflects their cost of production. He seemed to accept there needs to be some improvement in this area.
Beef Plan pointed out that, while this is desirable to reflect the additional cost of rearing sucklers, it must not be done at the expense of dairy-bred cattle. All beef cattle need a significant lift in price, they said.
There was also some frustration directed towards Teagasc director Gerry Boyle and the ICBF who run the Eurostar system. Most farmers believed the beef genomics scheme (BDGP) was not returning sufficient profit on for farmers.
Hugh Doyle asked why Teagasc was promoting the use of Holstein and Jersey cross cattle on beef farms when they are proven to be up to 30% less efficient than dedicated beef breeds.
Ger Dineen, a Beef Plan farmer from Cill na Martra, stated that he is operating in the top 5% of farmers in the country, yet it was costing him €5.36 per kilo of beef produced in 2018, and he was only getting €3.50 from factories.
In response, Andrew Crombie of ICBF said that Mr Dineen might be including farm labour in those costs. This provoked an angry reaction from the floor, with farmers asking Mr Crombie if he, or the rest of the panel, were working for free!
Michael Wallace, a leading agricultural academic at UCD, also spoke at the summit. He presented the preliminary results of a study he carried out on the importance of the national suckling herd. He claimed the suckling sector is worth around €3 billion to the national economy. It supports over 53,000 jobs, most of which are in rural Ireland.
Beef Plan contends that, if the beef industry continues to decline, it will be a major blow to the rural economy: ‘The key stakeholders in the beef industry need to listen to farmers now and act before it is too late,’ a spokesperson added.
The organisation called again on Minister Creed to act now put Brexit compensation into the hands of genuine farmers, not feedlots.