There was a seam of frustration rippling through a crowd of over 100 farmers at an IFA beef crisis meeting in Nenagh on 15 October, with farmers asking tough questions of the panel on beef prices and processor control.
It was also clear that many farmers felt failed by the recent budget announcement of a new Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot scheme (BEEP).
“The €40/cow is a joke and I think it should be sent back to Minister Creed and tell him that we don’t want it,” Francis Burke, a farmer from Thurles said, a point that was met with a round of applause from the crowd.
“As a suckler farmer I am deeply disappointed and considering getting out of suckler farming in the next 12 months because we didn’t get the €200/cow that we needed,” he said.
Valerie Woods from the Department of Agriculture gave a presentation on the potential of producer organisations (PO’s), and the potential bargaining power they could give farmers.
However, it was pointed out that many complications could arise from PO’s.
“To make an impact on the market place you’d need to have a big chunk of the cattle that need to be sold,” director general of the IFA Damien McDonald said.
“If you were to go down this route, farmers would have to make a very big commitment.”
“It is great in theory, how it will work in practice depends on the farmers.”
One of the main organisers of the newly formed beef plan group, Eamonn Corley, also requested that the language used to explain the PO legislation was made more farmer friendly, a suggestion that Woods said she would take back to the Department.
No silver bullet
The main focus of the meeting was to address the current perceived crisis facing the beef industry, with low prices prompting several beef protests over the past month.
Market control was repeatedly pointed out as an issue, with up to 70% of the Irish beef kill controlled by three processors, who supply five main supermarkets from a supply base of 80,000 beef farmers.
While PO’s were suggested as one option for increasing farmer bargaining power, Ray Doyle livestock director of ICOS said that it would be “small, incremental changes” that would pave the way for changes for Irish farmers.
He championed the role of the marts but said that it was clear that the direction of marts would also have to evolve.
However, continued farmer frustration came to the fore, with a feeling that more rapid change was needed and could be achieved if factories submitted to improved and transparent grading systems, and suckler farming was valued more by the government.
Valerie Woods, from the Department said she accepted that the BEEP scheme providing €40/cow was not what farmers had wanted, but that it was what they had been able to provide given budget constraints and they did recognise the value of the suckler herd.
There were a number of heated opinions voiced from farmers, with recurring seams of frustration appearing over the Beef Data and Genomics Scheme, processor control and the role of farm organisations.
The director general of the IFA Damien McDonald highlighted the power of displaying a united farmer stance by concluding: “While we can disagree, let’s thrash it out in the room and emerge united.”
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