Coveney urged to hold summit on income crisis affecting bull farmers

IFA's Eddie Downey protesting outside the Kepak meat factory in Clonee, Co Meath, last week.  Picture: Sasko Lazarov

With farmers facing losses of up to €200 per head on bull beef, the IFA wants Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to host a beef summit with meat factories, the IFA, Bord Bia, and Teagasc.

The IFA agreed to raise bull kill targets in January meetings with Meat Industry Ireland, the Ibec group representing meat factory owners. Weekly kill figures have increased, but farmers are still frustrated by the low price on offer and the oversupply in the market.

IFA president Eddie Downey said a beef summit is needed to tackle the crisis developing on cattle prices and farm incomes for winter and bull beef finishers.

He said the crisis could see the €2bn beef and livestock sector collapse, with major implications for the Food Harvest 2020.

Mr Coveney told the Dáil this week that the price issue relates to the preference for 16-month-old beef in the UK market. Farmers are coming to market with bulls aged two years and older, for which the market is weak to non-existent at present.

Mr Downey said: “It is not acceptable to farmers that Minister Coveney would consider he has no role with the factories on cattle prices. There must be a real link between all the announcements and progress on new and better markets for Irish beef, and viable cattle prices at farm level.”

He said it is essential that factories restore confidence in the beef trade and make it clear that prices have bottomed out.

Mr Downey added that the factories have to send a clear signal to suppliers that the price of in-spec steers and heifers will not come under further attack.

IFA national livestock chairman Henry Burns said there is real anger and frustration at farm level with the problems on price and particularly on not being able to get cattle killed.

In 2011 and 2012, factories encouraged farmers to keep their dairy calves for beef and not export them. Farmers responded and now these same farmers cannot get their bulls killed, let alone get a viable price.

“Farmers feel the factories have reneged on their commitments and feel very let down,” Mr Burns said.

“The strong signal is that dairy calves should be exported live in order to avoid damage to the beef price.”

Mr Coveney said he understood farmers’ frustrations at the low prices but rejected suggestions that Teagasc or any state authority had encouraged bull beef rearing.

“An industry-led solution to clear the backlog of bull beef is essential to restoring confidence in the sector and will hopefully resolve the current difficulties for farmers,” Mr Coveney said.

Last week, the IFA held protests outside three meat factories. Hundreds of beef producers attended, demanding a fair price and insisting they increase their weekly kill rate.

Meat Industry Ireland said that meat processors are committed to a constructive approach to the short-term oversupply of young bulls. Some 5,500 bulls were slaughtered each week, compared to 4,000 in previous weeks.

Director Cormac Healy said the factories have processed 10% more cattle this year, despite weaker demand. The Irish finished cattle price is 102% of the EU average, he added.

“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. Today, despite some weakening due to market conditions, our prime cattle prices remain amongst the highest across Europe,” Mr Healy said.


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