Macra calls for young farmer bonus to be paid by factories
Macra na Feirme has published its roadmap for the Irish beef sector in which the need for greater generational renewal is highlighted.

Macra na Feirme has called for the introduction of a young farmer bonus on finished cattle to be paid by meat processors.

Macra said this payment would recognise the fact that “young farmers are the most likely to adapt and put in place the advances in technology that will drive the future of this [the beef] sector”.

The proposal is part of the group’s roadmap for the Irish beef sector that was published on Wednesday 16 April.

Generational renewal

In the document, Macra said the age profile of the average beef farmer was of growing concern. It believed that if beef processors were serious about generation renewal they must incorporate a young farmer bonus to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector.

Macra also suggested forming producer organisations, recognised at EU level that will negotiate with factories. These organisations will “give beef farmers who have not the size or scale, the bargaining power of large-scale beef producers”.

The sustainable beef policy document called for broader access to training and advisory services so beef farmers can access technical knowledge to maximise existing resources.

Climate action

Another route Macra sees potential in is allowing all farmers, registered or not, to claim VAT back on all sexed semen AI straws.

Macra said: “A greater adoption of sexed semen use could further help to reduce the carbon emissions of the beef sector by allowing farmers to choose the correct straw for their requirements, whether that be breeding replacements or having cattle for finishing.”

Macra said the beef industry must be more vocal about its low carbon footprint and that greater advertising is needed for the constant work farmers are doing to reduce emissions.

Speaking about the document, Macra president James Healy said: “For many of our beef farmers, the current situation is unsustainable. Everyone talks about generational renewal and yet the average age of the beef farmer keeps increasing, because it is not a viable industry for most new entrants to farming."

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Crunch week for €100m beef fund
The next few days will be crucial, after Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed called for a package of support from the European Commission for Irish beef farmers following €100m of Brexit-related losses.

The IFA’s demand for a €100m Brexit package for Irish beef farmers is facing its defining days.

On Monday, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed made his case for compensation for Irish farmers at the ministerial council in Luxembourg.

He highlighted losses already incurred as a result of market instability and currency fluctuation caused by Brexit.

European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan speaking at the launch of his proposals for the CAP after 2020.

“There is nothing normal about events since our friends in the UK decided to leave the EU,” he said. “Irish beef producers have already suffered a reduction in their income as a result [of the UK decision to exit the EU],” he said.

“I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures, to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market, is warranted.”

Speaking after the meeting, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan responded: “We need evidence of the extent of what the issues are, so we can evaluate whether intervention in the marketplace is required. We await that from the member states.”

This is the first suggestion that support might be available for the damage caused by the prolonged Brexit process, as opposed to the UK’s actual exit.

Angus Woods, chair, IFA national livestock committee. \ Ferdia Mooney

It is understood that the minister was given five days to go back to Brussels with evidence of market disruption.

IFA officials met Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe this week to push for a package.

“Beef finishers have been financially savaged from Brexit price cuts,” said IFA livestock chair Angus Woods.

Earlier this week, frustrated farmers voiced their anger in Portlaoise about how much money they are losing every day as beef markets continue to suffer.

If Commissioner Hogan is to act, it would have to be soon as his term as European Commissioner for Agriculture nears an end.

Factories and farmers compete for Brexit cash
Calls for financial assistance accusations of price-fixing and attacks on dairy beef dominated an Oireachtas hearing this week.

Meat factories should be the ones to receive aid in a no-deal Brexit because they will pay new export costs, their representatives told the Oireachtas agriculture committee on Tuesday. “We need a Government guarantee that support mechanisms will be immediately available, delivered efficiently, applied at the point of trade, eliminating the ensuing market values loss extracted by the imposition of tariffs, and achieving the objective of keeping Irish beef supplied to UK customers,” said Meat Industry Ireland chair Philip Carroll.

He also dismissed as “an old chestnut” accusations of a factory “cartel” made by Beef Plan chair Eamon Corley, following similar comments before the same committee last week.

Competition authorities have allowed several recent mergers in the industry without finding evidence of distortion, Carroll said.

Farmer representatives, too, called for Government support, with the Beef Plan suggesting a €100/head export payment for weanlings.

Rescue package

ICSA president Patrick Kent called for a “rescue package from Brussels,” arguing that “for beef producers, Brexit has already effectively happened” with €4m lost to poor prices every week.

Macra suggested a young farmer bonus payment on beef prices.

Speakers were also critical of the dairy sector.

Corley said marketing cull cow and suckler beef under the same Origin Green brand was “a disgrace” and ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham said: “Those who need a nitrates derogation do not need direct payments.”

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Macra calls for young farmer bonus to be paid by factories

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Factories are bleeding us dry – Laois IFA Meeting

Listen: 'factories are bleeding us dry' – frustrated farmers vent their anger
A Laois IFA meeting in Portlaoise to discuss the current income crisis on beef farms saw plenty of anger and frustration levelled at beef factories for current prices, writes Adam Woods

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.

Brexit losses

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.”

EU Prices

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.”

Quality assurance

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.”

Too late

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 reaction

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”

Positive

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.

Beef Summit

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.