The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) has said that efforts to finish cattle earlier are not justified by factory beef prices.

Processor beef prices have been “languishing around the €5.20-€5.30/kg for months” despite the breakeven point sitting at or above the €6/kg mark, its beef chair Edmund Graham has said.

He maintains that farmers cannot shift to finishing cattle at younger ages to cut emissions if they are not compensated for the higher costs associated with the practice.

“Finishing cattle earlier is not cost-neutral – it costs money, it is an investment to commit to additional feeding and it’s a bad investment if farmers cannot achieve the price they need to justify the outlay,” Graham commented.

“Throughput numbers are down on where they were this time last year and many factories have cut back to a four-day week – but market demand for beef remains strong.

“This should add up to farmers achieving a fairer price but that is not what we are seeing.”

Department engagement

The beef chair called on the Department of Agriculture to engage with farmers finishing early, as previous factory assurances of higher spring prices to offset increased winter feed costs have not materialised.

“It is time for factories and the Department to engage in a real debate with primary producers on how they are going to provide sustainable prices for winter finishers or any farmer considering finishing cattle earlier,” he went on.

“Environmental sustainability cannot be achieved by ignoring economic sustainability considerations.”

“Conservative estimates by Teagasc said prices would have needed to be at the €6/kg level by early spring to cover the basic costs of production but we haven’t come even close to that.”