Addressing a large crowd of livestock farmers at the cattle price protest outside ABP in Nenagh this week, IFA president Eddie Downey said there is real anger and frustration with all the meat factories over the way they have cut bull beef prices over the last two months, leaving farmers with major financial losses.
Farmers also protested on the cattle price issue outside the Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh, Co Waterford and the Kepak plant in Clonee.
Eddie Downey said the factory price for bulls has been cut by 30c to 50c/kg or up to €200 per head since last December. “This has seriously eroded confidence among beef farmers and left winter finishers with substantial losses. The price cuts have to stop.”
Eddie Downey said farmers were extremely annoyed with the latest price cuts this week. He said IFA had met all of the meat plants since the New Year outlining the losses at farm level, demanding price stability and a move on the backlog of bulls. In addition, IFA met with Meat Industry Ireland and senior factory management two weeks ago demanding a halt in the price cuts and an increase in the kill to shift any backlog of bulls. He said while the bull kill increased last week, it was totally unacceptable that further price drops followed.
The IFA President said it is essential that the factories restore some confidence into the beef trade at farm level and make it clear that bull beef prices have bottomed out and will not fall further. In addition, he said the factories have to send a clear signal to their suppliers that the price of In-spec steers and heifers will not come under attack and will move on over the Spring period.
Eddie Downey said, “The reality is that there is good market demand for in-spec steers and heifers and factories should be well capable maintaining last week’s base prices of €4.00/kg for steers and €4.10/kg for heifers. Factories, retailers and food service customers involved in the Irish beef sector have major responsibilities to farmers in the regard”.
The IFA President said 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. He said the strong signal is that dairy calves should be exported live in order to avoid damage to the beef price.
IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said the price cuts on bulls have seriously eroded the beef market with factories undercutting each other on our export markets. In addition, confidence at farm level has been eroded and needs to be restored. The suckler cow herd is under major threat and much tighter specifications on bulls in respect of age, weight and price will threaten numbers in the future. Winter finishing and year-round beef production to service the higher priced retail contracts is also under pressure.
Henry Burns pointed out that the beef price crisis on bulls has major implications for the Food Harvest 2020 beef targets, exports and jobs involved in the beef sector.
He pointed out that in our largest export market in the UK, the sterling exchange rate had improved in recent weeks. In addition he said steers and heifers in the UK are making the equivalent from €4.50 to €4.80/kg including vat. “At these price returns in our largest market it is very difficult for Irish farmers to understand why our prices are under such pressure.”
The IFA Livestock Leader said the price cuts must stop and factories must stabilise the market situation. Winter finishers have been hit with severe losses and they need to get cattle killed and especially bulls before any specification cuts are imposed.
Deputy Michael Lowry joined the farmers in calling for a fair price from meat factories for their produce.
“Factories are deliberately depressing beef prices to the detriment of hard pressed farmers. The factories have moved the goalposts at the last minute by initially saying they did not want bulls, and now extending this to other prime animals. This coupled with the price decreases last Friday is making life impossible for farmers,” he said.