The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) has called on Meat Industry Ireland (MII) to provide a “rational explanation” for the difference in beef prices between Ireland and similar markets. The ICMSA has stated that prices paid to Irish farmers were “yet again adrift of essentially similar markets”.
According to Des Morrison, ICMSA Livestock Committee Chairperson, “As of May 6, and excluding VAT, the Irish R3 steer price was €5.24/kg. For the same animal in Britain the price was €5.61/kg and in Northern Ireland, it was €5.57/kg. In Italy, the price was €5.91/kg, while France was €5.37/kg. Would MII or any individual meat processor like to explain to us why you could have these kinds of differentials between essentially similar markets? We’d particularly be interested in hearing why there’s a 33c/kg difference between the Republic of Ireland and our northern colleagues.”
MII represents the meat processing sector, with most of the country’s processing businesses making up its membership. The ICMSA has accused the feedlot option for processors of undermining prices for winter finishers, stating that “It looks very much like the old tired and cynical story where the Irish factories are emptying out their own feedlots to depress farmer price.” Morrison added, “The irony here is that they are cutting the money that would go to the winter finishers who they’ll be looking to for supplies next year.”
The ICMSA dairy chair has expressed concern that farmers will not buy in forward store cattle for winter finishing “when the factories could do the same thing next year”. Morrison warned, “We would want to be very careful as an industry because we could end up with the only people able to finish winter cattle being the factory feedlots themselves and that won’t be beneficial for either them or farmer-producers in the medium term.”
Factory quotes for finished cattle have remained largely unchanged since the end of January, with no apparent increases. This period of beef price stability in Ireland comes at a time when the supply of finished cattle in the first four months of this year is down 30,500 head on the same time period last year.
The ICMSA has previously accused processors of “undermining the market” by importing beef from outside the EU. In March, the association called on the Irish government to introduce legislation to prevent such imports, claiming that they were “damaging to the Irish beef sector”.
The Irish beef sector has been hit by a number of challenges in recent years, including Brexit uncertainty and the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this, the sector has remained resilient, with exports to key markets such as China and the US continuing to grow.
The Irish government has also pledged to support the sector, with a €50m beef support package announced in 2020 to help farmers cope with the impact of Covid-19. The package included measures such as a €40 per animal payment for farmers who were unable to sell their cattle due to Covid-19 related disruptions.
The ICMSA has called for greater transparency and accountability in the beef sector, stating that farmers need to be assured that they are receiving a fair price for their produce. The association has also called for greater support for farmers, particularly in light of the challenges posed by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
In response to the ICMSA’s comments, MII has stated that the Irish beef sector is “highly competitive” and that prices are determined by a number of factors, including global demand and supply. The organisation has also stated that it remains committed to working with farmers and other stakeholders to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector.
The issue of beef prices is likely to remain a contentious one, with farmers and processors continuing to clash over the issue. However, with the Irish beef sector continuing to face a number of challenges, it is clear that greater collaboration and support will be needed if the sector is to thrive in the years ahead.