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Very End
The state of Irish cattle farming continues to exercise
the minds of everyone involved in the sector. When
beef prices rose well above 4 per kilo last year the
assumption was that the price marked a new benchmark
for the future. This has not proven to be the case. A
closer analysis of the price might have given some
indication that Irish beef prices were out of kilter with
many other parts of Europe. The British market had
been returning prices well above most other markets
and this was always unlikely to continue indefinitely.
There was a time when supply and demand determined
beef price. The world has become a far more complex
place in relation to beef and other food prices. Currency
fluctuations, consumer eating trends, social media
campaigns are just a few of the variables that now
influence what farmers get for the livestock which leave
their farms.
There are so many di culties besetting the cattle sector
that adequately representing the interests of livestock
farmers is a complex operation. Identifying solutions
and getting them implemented is even more complex
and challenging. One thing is certain. Division is never
a good tactic in any campaign. There are far too many
organisations representing the interests of Irish cattle
farmers. IFA, ICMSA, INHFA and ICSA all claim interest
in promoting the economic wellbeing of some or
other section or subsection of the sector. Over the past
twelve months representation of the Irish beef sector
has fractured even further with the latest representative
body, the Beef Plan Movement, attracting the attention
of many Irish cattle farmers anxiously seeking out any
source of comfort and direction for their beleaguered
cattle enterprises. The Movement's 86-point Plan did
not give the impression that the `Movement' is a focused
or relevant representative body for cattle farmers but
time may prove that to be an incorrect assumption.
Whether the Beef Plan Movement o ers a real alternative
to the professional lobbying capabilities of the IFA,
for instance, is questionable. As Joe Healy explains in
other pages of the Monthly, much can be achieved by
undertaking comprehensive analyses, making cogent
arguments and lobbying for action. The result has been
the establishment of the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure
(BEAM) scheme. When it was announced, 100 million
looked like a lot of money. Given the scale of Irish cattle
farming, the losses incurred by the threat of Brexit
and, it should be noted, other pressures on the sector,
BEAM will only soften the blows being endured by Irish
cattle farmers. For larger beef finishers the funding
proposed does not compare to the losses endured. For
the average suckler to weanling producer the payment
will be about half the price of an individual weanling
welcome, but hardly over-generous.
One cannot look a gift horse in the mouth and the
funding needed to fully compensate for the losses
endured was never forthcoming. That is something
that must be faced up to in the coming years. Whatever
the outcome of Brexit, and it will be in degrees of
negativity only, the outlook for cattle prices is not
positive. Mercosur, if and when implemented will place a
potential surplus over European beef supply indefinitely,
unless EU cattle numbers decrease. That may well be
an underlying assumption among those who have
negotiated the trade deal. Unfortunately, as we look
forward to further marketing and price pressures on
beef, there must also be a realisation, if the BEAM is a
template, that adequate EU compensation funding for
losses incurred is by no means certain.
Cattle divisions are not
good for farmers
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