Sheep farmers warn of more meat factory protests over the price of lamb

Farmers ‘don’t know which way to turn for money’ over below cost of production price

Sheep farmers protest in Athleague. Photograph: ICSA

Sheep farmers protest in Athleague. Photograph: ICSA

 

Sheep farmers have said they will resume pickets at meat factories if they continue to receive below the cost of production for spring lambs.

A protest, which began on Sunday evening outside Kepak in Athleague, Co Roscommon, was called off on Monday night after talks between the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) and company management.

The two sides have agreed to meet again on Thursday afternoon.

ICSA sheep chairman Sean McNamara said farmers are in dire financial straits and “don’t know which way to turn for money” because of the price they are getting for lambs at present.

“Farmers are pure depressed. There are a lot of men who can’t pay their bills, can’t pay banks or feed merchants. They are angry at the factories and the supermarkets,” he said.

Mr McNamara said Kepak was being targeted as they are paying one of the the lowest prices for lamb at €4.80 per kilogramme, the equivalent of €100 a lamb when the cost of production is €110.

He said farmers were getting €120 a lamb last year and while they are getting substantially less this year, the price charged in supermarkets for lamb had not gone down in the last year.

Mr McNamara said other factories were paying up to €5.30 per kg for lamb. He said there had been a “strong exchange of views” with management at the plant and they agreed to further the discussion on Thursday.

He added: “Both sides agreed that current prices were wholly unsatisfactory from a farmer’s perspective. ICSA is insisting that the continuous severe cuts on sheep price cannot continue and that sheep farmers cannot be expected to lose money.

“Farmers are very angry at the way in which lambs are being imported from Northern Ireland to undermine the price for local lambs. This is not good enough.

The protest started on Sunday afternoon and continued throughout Sunday night. “We don’t want to be here, but excess price cuts are killing the viability of sheep farmers and ICSA is fighting for the future of sheep farming,” he said.

However, Mr McNamara warned that if prices continue to fall there are no guarantees that there won’t be further protests at various meat plants in the coming weeks.

In reponse Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has blamed the weak demand for Irish lamb internationally and strong competition from competitively priced UK lamb.

MII said in a statement: “Processors understand the frustration of farmers with these reported price falls but it is reflective of what is happening in the market. While market returns are disappointing at present, disruption of processing operations will not help the situation.”