Anger, frustration and despondency would best describe the mood of the meeting on Monday night which saw both Bord Bia and the beef factories come in for some heavy criticism from those attending the meeting.
A crowd of over 400 packed in to the Killeshin Hotel to hear from Meat Industry Ireland (MII), Bord Bia and IFA about the current beef crisis. Michael Houlihan from Bord Bia addressed the meeting along with Cormac Healy of MII, Angus Woods IFA national livestock chair and Francis Gorman, Laois IFA chair, who organised the meeting.
Many farmers from the floor told the top table that they were losing between €300-€500/head this year on their finishing enterprises.
Mountmellick beef and sheep farmer, Henry Burns gave a passionate plea to the top table to do something to stop farmers coming to the wall this spring. Burns asked: “Where are we going? We are being asked to take this Brexit loss head on. Where do we turn to? I’ve turned to my merchant and the bank to fill the hole, but that won’t last forever. I’m already dealing with my supports payments being down one third.
I have everything the factories want and yet I’m losing ground. I never worked as hard and I never lost as much
Minster Creed is saying when Brexit comes we’ll step in. That’s not good enough, I’m already suffering from Brexit and we need help now.”
On the beef factories he said: “They have hung us out to dry, they have us on the floor and they’re looking to drive us further into the ground.
They have tagged us along all spring saying April will be better, May will be better and we’ve fallen for it again. I’m doing everything right – I have the stocking rate, I have the performance, I have the kill outs, in-spec cattle, no movements – I have everything the factories want and yet I’m losing ground. I never worked as hard and I never lost as much.”
John Kehoe, a large beef finisher from Co Carlow, told the meeting that he was losing €500/head at the moment on his finishing bulls and he demanded answers from both Bord Bia and MII.
“I took a beating in 2014 that I never thought I would have to take again but at the moment I’m taking a huge beating,” he said.
“It shocked me today to see that the price of U-grade bulls in Italy is €4.50/kg and they are €4.20/kg in France. How can Bord Bia and MII say they are doing anything right when we are selling beef at €1/kg less and still can’t get it onto these shelves?”
In defence of his members, Cormac Healy said: “We are never going to be able to attain the prices that are paid for a country’s home-produced beef. My members are working in an over-supplied market at the moment and it’s a difficult one.”
I would caution anyone to walk away from QA
He also said “there has been improvement in prices over the last number of years and in general we track the EU average quite well. On quality assurance (QA) he said that it was a perquisite to enter nearly all markets at this stage.
“I would caution anyone to walk away from QA. Our members are working extremely hard to diversify markets but it doesn’t make sense to move away from our highest-price market, which is the UK. Getting access to new markets takes time, we are competing with a lot of other countries to get access to China. We have six plants approved with one more approved on Friday last. We have 12 plants waiting to get approval. It’s a very slow process.”
Kildare farmer Brian Rushe questioned whether QA was really working.
“All the burden lies with the farmer, it’s like another cross-compliance inspection at this stage and yet farmers aren’t getting any reward for it.
“The only true measure of success of QA is delivering more money to farmers and it’s not doing that. In my opinion it’s doing a lot more for factories and retailers than it is for farmers.”
Another local man, Liam Delaney, who was once a flagship farmer for McDonalds through Dawn Meats, said it was too late for him as he has made the decision to switch his farming operation to dairy.
“I couldn’t sustain the losses any more and I needed to get out while I could. I’ll have kids going to college in five years and I need to make sure I can pay for them. Dairy farming is the only thing that can provide this for me.
That’s a sad thing to say and there is no one more disappointed than myself that I have to exit beef production.”
IFA national livestock chair Angus Woods said he was appalled at the comments from our Government ministers in the past few months.
“First we have our Taoiseach coming out telling people he is cutting back on meat consumption, then we have Richard Bruton condoning messages going out to schools about the damage eating meat does to the environment.
“We also have our own Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed adopting a wait-and-see approach, assuring us that he will step in if there is a hard Brexit.
“Irish beef farmers are already feeling the consequences of Brexit and we are demanding the Government take action now. We need a retrospective support payment to be issued to farmers to cover the Brexit losses we have incurred since June 2016.”
On the issue of factories he said: “Beef factories have used the smokescreen of Brexit to drive down prices and profit on the back of it. They continue to expand their businesses and make acquisitions while beef farmers struggle to put bread on the table”
One positive on the night came from Bord Bia in that they forecast EU beef production to contract by 1.7% in 2019. They also pointed to a 50,000 head reduction in the cattle kill for 2019.
With this year’s kill already up over 30,000 head, that’s an 80,000 head swing between now and the end of the year which could help lift prices. International issues like African swine fever could also indirectly help beef prices.
The Irish Farmers Journal are holding a major beef summit in the Shearwater Hotel, Balinasloe, Co Galway on Thursday 9May at 7pm. The summit, which is aimed at providing answers as to the direction that our beef industry is going has a number of high-profile speakers confirmed. A number of the speakers will address issues in relation to suckler beef. The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed will address the meeting along with the secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, Brendan Gleeson. The director of Teagasc Gerry Boyle and Bord Bia CEO have also been confirmed to speak at the meeting. There are currently over 1,000 of the 1,200 tickets booked so those wishing to attend should register for tickets at www.farmersjournal.ie/beefsummit. Attendance is free but you need a ticket to gain entry on the night.