Farmers need market advice

IRISH farmers could do with better marketing advice.

Cattle buyers are generally in the dark about what their eventual selling price will be. With the grain harvest nearly completed, many growers still do not know what their final price per tonne will be – and probably will not know for several weeks.

Maybe some farmers like it like that, and rely on their personal skills at assessing the market to keep them a step ahead and know when to strike a deal.

“The most successful people in life are generally those who have the best information,” said late 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

And market information is more valuable than ever in farming when, for example, grain prices were seldom more volatile and unpredictable – even if they are going in the right direction (from a grower’s point of view).

As for Irish beef cattle prices, who would have expected them to be so static all the year, especially now that global meat prices have hit a 20-year high.

Just across the border, northern farmers are better informed.

The standard of marketing advice provided by the Livestock and Meat Commission is reflected in their weekly bulletins.

In a recent report on the complex relationship between price trends in Scotland and Northern Ireland, they tipped cattle farmers off that the differential between local prices and those in Scotland has widened significantly in recent months.

Using detailed figures for the trend in exports from the North to Scotland, and transport costs to Scottish meat plants, they were able to advise that the first 2 to 8p/kg of the price differential goes on transport, and profitability after that depended on prices for each grade, bonuses, deductions and kill charges.

The bulletin went on to consider store cattle prices, including the contribution that non-commercial farmers may be making to store cattle demand.

Funding for the LMC comes from cattle and sheep farmers who pay £1 and 20p per animal slaughtered, and £1 and 10p from processors. Commercial income is also generated, by their carcass classification and rural payments agency services.

Bord Bia provides useful weekly historical data on prices of cattle, sheep, pigs, dairy products, cereals and fish – but is not as farmer-orientated as the LMC.

Bord Bia’s funding includes a levy per head on slaughtered or exported livestock of €1.90 per head for cattle, 25c per head for sheep and 25c per head for pigs.

On the face of it, LMC, which has a staff of up to 45, seems to do a better job of advising farmers. However, it may be unfair to compare the livestock marketing advice from the two organisations. Perhaps southern Irish cattle market trends are genuinely difficult to predict?

After all, there are four times more cattle in the south, where beef exports play a much bigger role in the market.

In any case, Bord Bia’s staff of about 100 cover market development, promotion and information services for the entire food, drink and horticulture sectors.

As for predictions on grain markets, prices depend on such a multitude of factors – weather in the big exporting countries, speculators, demand for animal feeds, autumn plantings, bad weather downgrading wheat from milling to feed quality – that any advice must be taken with a pinch of salt.


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