Beefing up communication

The oxygen of information is entering the beef industry via Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s industry roundtable discussions.

Better than most of his predecessors at keeping all the stakeholders in the agri-food sector well informed, he has achieved this through quarterly roundtable discussions where he brings all beef stakeholders together and chairs the discussions.

It’s not all talk; he has made it clear he wants actions that will aid viability across the beef supply chain.

He led the way in this respect last week with revised financial supports to help farmers get rid of BVD “reactors” — just days after a report to the beef roundtable that a suitable mechanism was needed for the removal of these animals from farms.

Many more actions will be anticipated to follow from the roundtables. But even the flow of information on its own can be very helpful.

That’s why Mr Coveney decided to publish in full the report to the second beef roundtable meeting by Michael Dowling, chairman of the Beef Activation Group.

Mr Coveney complimented Mr Dowling on an extremely comprehensive report, describing it as “an excellent roadmap for where we take our work from here”.

Indeed the report alluded to how lack of information can hinder the industry.

Mr Dowling questioned how well information on markets for bull beef was conveyed to farmers who have run into major difficulties in marketing bulls, and will consequently be slow to return to bull production. He said farmers may have been receiving mixed messages from the professional breeding and management advice available to them, and called for greater co-ordination between Teagasc, Bord Bia, ICBF, and AHI, to ensure coherence of policy and practice.

He said farmers need to get the information flow to farmers needs to receive earlier signals of market changes from processors.

In general, communication within the industry has not been as effective or as joined up as it might have been, according to the chairman of the Beef Activation Group, which has set a 40% target for increasing the value of Irish beef output (this has already been achieved, but that is almost entirely down to higher prices rather than extra volume).

He also told the roundtable there was a need for a more pro-active approach to conveying information to farmers both on market requirements and on individual slaughter data; and Bord Bia might consider whether its market analysis service could be expanded.

He said processors should commit to better and more regular communications with suppliers on market needs and developments, and ensure that the same consistent message is also conveyed through informal contacts. Regular kill data to suppliers is also essential, and should enable a farmer to work out how his return could be maximised.

Mr Dowling hopes the quarterly roundtable meetings can help improve communications. For farmers, as the months go on, that offers the prospect of a clearer picture of the profit prospect before they take a two-year gamble on a calf becoming a valuable beef animal.

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