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Beef farming hits ‘crisis point’


Protesting beef farmers say €100m aid package not enough

Anton McNulty

THE beef industry in Ireland is at crisis point, according to protesting beef farmers, who say the Government’s €100 million aid measure is ‘not a fraction of what is needed’.
Mayo beef farmers picketed outside the Dawn Meats beef factory in Ballyhaunis yesterday (Monday), protesting at what they say is the exploitation of farmers by beef processors.
The protest, organised by the Beef Plan Movement, comes in light of a €100 million aid package announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed which will be made available to beef farmers experiencing difficulties as a result of Brexit.
The Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM), jointly funded by the Government and the EU, is aimed at countering problems farmers are facing because of market volatility and uncertainty over Brexit.
While welcoming the aid measures, Conor Regan, the Mayo Chairperson of the Beef Plan Movement said that €100 million was not enough to support the beef sector, especially in Mayo.
“It is welcome but it is not a fraction of what is needed,” Mr Regan, a suckler and pedigree beef farm from Kilkelly told The Mayo News. “The industry is at crisis point and it really is do or die at the moment with more farmers getting out of it now. We are €250 a head behind what we were getting for our price last year.
“In Mayo, of 7,500 farmers, 6,500 are in suckler, and according to Mayo County Council figures, farming is worth €500 million to the local economy. There is talk of cutting the herd by 55 percent and farmers planting trees. That is nonsense, because if it happens it means farming is gone and whole villages and communities will be gone. This won’t help rural Ireland, it will decimate it,” he said.
Under the scheme, farmers would receive €100 per animal slaughtered between September 24, 2018, and May 12, 2019, with the aid covering up to a maximum of 100 animals per herd.
A payment of €40 will also be made on suckler cows that calved in 2018, up to a maximum of 40 suckler cows. Dairy herds are not eligible for the measure, with the exception of dairy herds of less than 40 dairy cows.
Minister Michael Ring said BEAM will open for applications during the third week of August 2019 and will help ‘hard-pressed beef farmers in Mayo’.
“I am keenly aware that the past few months have been very difficult for beef farmers here in Mayo and across the country.
“There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance.
“The availability of this EU and Exchequer support, together with the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) introduced earlier this year, provides an injection of up to €120m in aid for the beef sector in 2019,” he said.
However, the scheme was criticised by the ICMSA, which said that the decision to exclude dairy farmers with herds in excess of 40 cows was ‘unjust, unfair and had set a disastrous precedent’.
The Beef Plan Movement was founded last October and currently has 1,000 paid up members in Mayo. The group has plans to set up its own co-ops to handle the slaughtering of cattle and market its own beef products.
The protest outside the Dawn Meats factory was part of a nationwide protest to underline the importance of the suckler and beef farmer to the overall Irish economy. There were up to 35 farmers operating in shifts throughout the day and evening in Ballyhaunis, and Mr Regan said they wanted to peacefully disrupt the factory’s operation to force the factory owners to engage with them and negotiate a better price.
“We can’t stop anyone from entering the plant, but we have a picket and we are asking people to respect the picket and not enter. Today, 20 farmers turned up with jeep and trailers, and after speaking to them only three went in. Even vets are talking of not crossing the picket, so we hope all vets and farmers will respect the picket,” he said.  
Mr Regan blamed the factories and retailers for the price reduction.
“The factories and the retailers blame Brexit, which has not happened yet … but beef has not gone down in the shops in England where the majority of our product goes. What we want is for beef farmers to get 17 percent of the retail price; 20 years ago we were getting 40 percent. The retailers and the processors are getting stronger and stronger, and they have bigger buying power. It is the small farmer who suffers,” he said.