Beef industry struggles with worst crisis in 40 years

Many of Ireland’s 80,000 suckler farmers are looking for other jobs or leasing lands to dairy farmers

Trevor Boland: “Our costs have gone up, our feeds, our fertiliser, but the price we receive hasn’t increased.” Photograph:  Brian Farrell

Trevor Boland: “Our costs have gone up, our feeds, our fertiliser, but the price we receive hasn’t increased.” Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

For Francie Gorman, a full-time suckler farmer in Portlaoise, the past six months have been as grim as he can remember, as the beef industry struggles with the worst crisis it has faced in 40 years.

Farmers are abandoning beef, according to Mr Gorman, ahead of a gathering in Ballinasloe on Thursday night of those in the industry, which has been organised by The Irish Farmers’ Journal.

“Back in 1973, people went back working outside the farm,” said Mr Gorman, saying that many of Ireland’s 80,000 suckler farmers were looking for jobs off the farm, or leasing their lands to dairy farmers.

Prices had increased marginally in recent weeks, but by nowhere near enough, he said, adding that Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed must hear the message at Thursday night’s gathering.

Dairy was not an option for most suckler farmers, said Trevor Boland, who farms part-time in Sligo on poor land: “There is money to be made from suckler farming, but the problem is the margin isn’t high enough.

“We do need assistance. The customer isn’t paying for beef because it is priced against chicken and pork. The margin is going to the factories and the supermarkets.

“The supermarkets have the power over the factories and the factories have the power over the farmers. Our costs have gone up, our feeds, our fertiliser, but the price we receive hasn’t increased,” Mr Boland said.

Despondency and frustration

Trouble for suckler farmers meant trouble for local towns, he warned. “Marts in towns like Ballymote and Ballina could go out of business and that would affect those towns hugely,” he said.

Even sixth- and seventh-generation farmers were quitting beef, said Cavan suckler farmer, Adam Woods: “There is a lot of anger out there; despondency and frustration with the beef industry.

“There are very low margins; 2018 was a very difficult year. Farmers are losing between €30,000 and €40,000 a year; it’s a massive pay cut to take,” said Mr Woods, who is the Irish Farmer Journal’s beef editor.

“Costs are a lot higher now than in the past and an increase in price to match is needed but that hasn’t come. Input costs are rising; output costs are decreasing,” he said.

The Beef Plan Movement which is calling for higher prices said they decided to picket this evening’s event as most of the key stakeholders in the beef industry will be in the same place, a rare occurrence.

“It’s the number one place to be. No meeting like this has been offered in the west of Ireland before. We are suffering. We want to ask questions and we want answers,” said its chairman Mr Woulfe.