Beef strike: Producers seeking ‘survival line’ cash injection from State, EU

Farmers claim they are not getting a fair price for animals at the factory gate

The bonus system rewards farmers for bringing livestock in before they turn 30 months.

The bonus system rewards farmers for bringing livestock in before they turn 30 months.

 

The grassroots Beef Plan Movement is seeking a “survival line” cash injection from the State and Brussels to “avoid a complete devastation of beef farming”.

According to a briefing document circulated in advance of talks on Monday, the group is asking the Government and the EU to make up the difference between the market rate being paid for cattle, around €3.50 per kg, and a “survival line” of €4 per kg for farmers.

The group said the current weakness in the market price is Brexit-related.

“Our Government and the EU have said all along that they would not let beef farmers be out of pocket as a result of losses that are Brexit-related.

“Therefore, the Government and EU now have a responsibility to find whatever amount of money that is the shortfall between the market price and the farmers survival line. We believe this money should be given to the factories.

“In return the factories have to give a cast iron guarantee that the money paid to the farmer never drops below the survival line between now and February.”

Some farming sources expressed surprise at the proposed price support, which may come into conflict with European competition rules, they said.

In addition to its short term plan, Beef Plan Movement is also seeking longer term changes to the pricing model for beef, to be instituted from February next year. Under the new model, retailers, processors and farmers would agree on the percentage share of the retail price of beef on a yearly basis.

“It is up to these three sectors to give a commitment to this new pricing model as the current model no longer works,” the document states.

The briefing document also says the grassroots organisation will be looking for “some movement” on the bonus paid on cattle under 30 months of age “to help pacify the country’s beef and suckler farmers”. The age issue has been the most contentious sticking point in talks so far, with agreement in principal raised on a number of matters.

‘Long day and night’

However, disagreement has emerged over the funding of one of the previously approved measures, with factories now demanding farmers pay for more information on the weight of cattle before slaughter, according to sources inside the talks. “It will be a long day and night,” one source said.

On his way into the second day of the talks, IFA president Joe Healy said more support was urgently needed for beef farmers who “are in the middle of an income crisis”.

He said he would be seeking a strong commitment from the government about what he said were sub-standard imports into the EU market from third countries.

“Imports which do not meet the same stringent standards as EU producers must be banned,” he said, adding that the IFA would be making the case for a fully funded CAP “to ensure that the current level of direct payments to Irish beef farmers is protected”.

Talks to resolve the beef price crisis resumed last week. Beef farmers had been picketing outside meat factories over the prices they are getting for their animals. They agreed to suspend their pickets in order to allow for the talks to take place.

Negotiations began last week between Meat Industry Ireland, the representative body for processors, and farmer organisations including Beef Plan, which is the grass-roots movement that organised pickets of factories over the summer.

For its part, the meat industry suspended threats of legal proceedings against the protesters.

Monday’s talks, which also involve representatives from the Irish Farmers’ Association, got under way from 11am at the Department of Agriculture in Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Broad agreement was reached last week on a range of issues, including concessions by processors on weighing animals prior to slaughter for a nominal charge and to providing contracts between factories and farmers in written format.