Protesting farmers agree to negotiate

Farmers have agreed to hold two weeks of ‘intensive negotiations’ with meat industry chiefs to avert a crisis in beef production.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney hailed the move as a breakthrough after he chaired three and a half hours of talks.

The summit in Kildare followed a 24-hour protest by the Irish Farmers Association, which took place outside 30 factories across the country this week.

IFA members expressed anger as they said they get €350 a head less for cattle than their equivalents in the UK.

The third meeting of the Beef Forum also saw approval for the establishment of producer groups aimed at giving farmers more sway when dealing with factories.

Following the first national farmer blockade of meat factories for 15 years, which producers claimed cost them between €10m and €15m, tension was running high at the forum.

The talks between farmers and factory chiefs will now focus on weights, specifications, and quality issues.

IFA president Eddie Downey said success would only come with price rises.

“This was a very tough meeting,” said Mr Downey. “The bottom line is that there is a fortnight here for this forum to put together changes and specs in that whole area. What was also very clear is that if the price does not move forward over that fortnight, this forum has failed.”

Meat Industry Ireland chairman Ciaran Fitzgerald said farmers need to focus on the “big prize”.

“It will be difficult in the sense that we wouldn’t have got to where we are at if this was simple,” he said. “But at the same time, with goodwill and a focus on the big prize, which is that we have an Irish beef industry that people talk about in terms of its exports and all the things it does well, if we focus on that I think we can be successful, and we are certainly up for that.”

Mr Coveney said it would be illegal for him to intervene to set prices.

“The indications were in this meeting, coming from processors and coming from people who were outlining the facts in the market place at the moment, is that I think we are likely to see price improvements in the coming weeks and months,” said Mr Coveney. “Certainly next year we will see a tightening of supply right across Europe and in Ireland and I think that’s good news for beef farmers.”


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