The protesters cited UK factory prices of up to €300 per head more than the prices being paid by Irish plants. The protests took place outside Kepak in Clonee, Co Meath; the Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh, Co Waterford; and ABP’s plant in Nenagh, Co Tipperary.
IFA president Eddie Downey said farmers feel betrayed by the processors who, in 2011 and 2012, encouraged farmers to keep their dairy calves for beef and not export them. He said the factory price for bulls has been cut by 30c to 50c/kg or up to €200 per head since last December.
“This has seriously eroded confidence among beef farmers and left winter finishers with substantial losses. The price cuts have to stop,” he said.
“The reality is that there is good market demand for in-spec steers and heifers and factories should be well capable of maintaining last week’s base prices of €4.00/kg for steers and €4.10/kg for heifers. Factories, retailers, and food service customers involved in the Irish beef sector have major responsibilities to farmers in the regard.”
The IFA noted that the sterling exchange rate had improved in recent weeks. He said steers and heifers in the UK are making the equivalent from €4.50 to €4.80/kg including Vat.
Mr Downey said the protests were a direct response to price cuts imposed this week by the meat factories. The IFA had met with Ibec’s meat plant wing Meat Industry Ireland and factory management two weeks ago demanding a halt in the price cuts and an increase in the kill to shift any backlog of bulls.
While the bull kill increased last week, this was accompanied by a drop in prices. Winter finishers have been hit with severe losses and need to get cattle killed, especially bulls, before specification cuts are imposed, Mr Downey said.
Meat Industry Ireland director Cormac Healy said it was disappointing to see the IFA using disruptive tactics. He said the factories have processed 10% more cattle so far this year, despite weaker demand.
Mr Healy described the IFA protests as ill-advised and misguided. He said the factories have been returning exceptionally strong prices to producers in recent years.
“At a time when national income has declined, beef farmers have received a 40% price increase equivalent to approx €1.5bn cumulative over the four years from 2009 to 2013,” Mr Healy said. “Today, despite some weakening due to market conditions, our prime cattle prices remain amongst the highest across Europe.
“Irish steer and cow prices were third week and our heifer price was fifth highest. highest. Overall, the Irish finished cattle price is 102% of the EU average, yet the IFA protests seek to deny the realities of the marketplace.”
The meat factories said market conditions are always more challenging in February as consumers across Europe alter purchasing behaviour in the face of post-Christmas bills and a period of decreased disposable income.
IFA Munster chairman James McCarthy attended the protest in Nenagh. He said beef farmers had come from Kerry, Cork, Limerick, and Offaly.
As a dairy farmer based in Currow, Co Kerry, he has yet to feel the full impact of the price cuts. However, his cows are now calving and he expects that export may be his best option.
“There won’t be an Irish buyer out there in two or three weeks from now for my bull calves,” he said. “In 2012, the trade was good. Farmers who attended meetings with industry leaders at the time were told not to export, but to keep those cattle at home.
“Now, my animals will have to be shipped out of the country. The beef producers who’ve been burned in recent months will hardly be buying. Naturally, I am nervous that there will be a lesser price for my bull calves.”