All cattle farmers owe a debt of gratitude to their 15,000 colleagues who supported IFA’s 24-hour beef price protests at nearly 30 meat plants around the country.
At the very least, it encourages farmers to believe a reduction in the cattle supply to plants is imminent — in the belief that IFA would not have “gone out on a limb” unless the timing was right.
Responding to the protest, processors said cattle prices are strengthening and the trend from the market is positive — also encouraging for farmers.
Unfortunately, there was an otherwise somewhat hostile reception from beef processors, saying the factory blockade was misguided and counterproductive.
They said IFA’s focus on comparing beef prices in Ireland and Great Brittain was over-simplistic, inappropriate and wholly misleading, very unnecessary and questionable.
So farmers can hardly be confident of a favourable outcome to the two weeks of intensive discussions announced between farmer groups and processors on the commercial issues in dispute.
Processors have again pointed to IFA’s refusal to focus on input costs and efficiency, and say that means the key elements affecting beef farmer incomes are therefore not being addressed.
The farmer protest will do nothing to improve the returns from the marketplace, said processors.
They see nothing wrong with paying southern Irish farmers €350 less for beef cattle than they would pay in Great Britain, or that a farmer in Cavan, for example, might get €277 less for a beef steer than his neighbour across the border in Co Fermanagh.
Whether or not processors think these price comparisons are misleading, farmers think they are genuine grievances.
Therefore, if IFA find further action against beef processors is necessary to win a price rise and to have market specification addressed, they will find support forthcoming from farmers for that action.
Processors said the end of October blockade disrupted business, and damaged Ireland’s reputation with customers, impacting on lamb as well as on beef processors, hindering orderly marketing and supply to customers.
However, farmers are unlikely to back down from the path they have taken.
Maybe processors, and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, think cattle farmers will be appeased by the Minister’s announcement that his Chinese counterpart is to send a formal inspection team to Ireland in December, to have a look at the beef inspection system in Ireland.
Positive though it is that Ireland can thus prove first hand our credentials as a safe secure supplier of world class beef, to a major beef importer, farmers have learned not to hold their breath waiting for these announcements to turn into beef exports.
After a trade mission in March 2012, the Chinese promised to send an inspection team, but have only now committed to a date.
It was also in 2012 that Bord Bia sources predicted Irish beef exports from the EU to the US were likely from the autumn of 2013.
However, Irish beef in the US market is now expected no earlier than the end of this year.
2014 had its share of Irish beef export breakthroughs around the world.
But 15,000 farmers ended up outside beef factory gates.
For them, the time is past of promises of rising markets, instead they need to see better prices in their cheques.
Already they are being warned by their colleagues in other EU countries that the state of the EU beef market is becoming critical due to the Russian ban dragging down prices, and the prospect of extra beef from the growing dairy herd.
Irish processors say cattle prices are strengthening and the trend from the market is positive.
But how long will that last?
Who are Irish cattle farmers to believe: their EU colleagues or the beef processors and the Agriculture Minister?
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