Beef Plan straight talk
Programme for Government
The new Programme for Government issued jointly by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party is a lengthy document with a lot of aspirational detail but it is less specific on how these aspirations are to be achieved.
The document acknowledges the immense importance of the agriculture sector to the country as it supports 173,000 jobs and comprises 10% of our exports. In light of this, it is appropriate that the Programme recognises the ‘special economic and social role’ of agriculture in the Irish economy and in Irish society. It will be interesting to see how this description will be reconciled with policies of restricting new farmhouses, extensive afforestation and the designation of 10% of the countryside as highly protected areas. This role must also be considered when planning the average annual 7% reduction in carbon emissions. It is absolutely essential that the carbon sequestration of our hedgerows and grazed grasslands, which is an already existing feature of extensive beef farming, is taken into account. This existing benefit must be rewarded by calculating net rather than gross livestock emissions before further burdens are imposed on farmers. The acknowledgement of the distinct characteristics of biogenic methane is therefore very welcome as this should facilitate some understanding of the distinction between cyclical livestock emissions and the effectively non-cyclical fossil fuel emissions. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has declared that while our CO2 emissions ought to be reduced to zero by 2050, this is not the case for biogenic methane because of these distinct characteristics.
The commitment to review greenhouse gas emissions on a consumption basis, recognising the limitations of assessment solely on a production basis, is very heartening and could indeed have very far-reaching implications. Such a review would require a realistic figure for carbon emissions to be imposed on imported goods, such as Brazilian beef, and, coupled with the calculation of net emissions from Irish beef, would build a very strong case for marketing Irish beef as very environmentally friendly. However it is unclear how this review of the assessment basis would impact on State reporting obligations to the EU and the UN.
The Programme commits to supporting balanced regional development. It further envisages that towns and villages will act as hubs to serve thriving hinterlands and commits to supporting farmers and food businesses to maintain these hubs. The concept of Rural Ideas Fora to consult with rural dwellers on rural development is welcome and, if implemented, could help reduce rural depopulation. Unfortunately this conflicts with existing policies of urbanisation and large-scale afforestation and also the new EU Protected Areas plan which proposes to designate 10% of the country as very high level special protected areas. We will monitor the implementation of the consultation process and insist that the commitment to support farmers and local food businesses is honoured. Some of this support is framed as a drive to improve land management to reduce emissions. It is important to recognise that in general farmers know their own land and improvements must be proposed in consultation with farmers rather than being imposed upon them. This system has worked well in the Locally-Led Schemes. The longest-established of these is the Burren Life Programme which has worked well for farmers and has demonstrated environmental, economic and social results.
The Programme for Government refers to Article 39b of the Lisbon Treaty which promises to ensure a fair standard of living for farmers. To achieve this, the Programme makes maintaining CAP funding a top priority. The stated aim is to deliver high standards of quality, food security, income, welfare and environmental benefits. All of this is expensive and should be funded by both consumers and taxpayers. However none of this will be achievable while the EU continues to undermine agriculture in Ireland and the EU by importing food from countries that deliver none of these benefits. The EU and the Irish government are contributing directly to low standards by their actions which speak louder than the words in the Programme.
The proposal to establish a PGI for Irish beef is a welcome idea. However this needs to be carefully considered as the previous catch-all proposal for this was rejected. A more targeted approach is required in order to achieve this. In relation to the beef industry specifically, the Programme commits to greater transparency in the beef supply chain. This has been spoken of for a very long time and we would expect to see some tangible progress in this area. However we see once again that in the latest report being prepared by Grant Thornton, commercial sensitivity is once again being quoted as a shield to prevent any genuine analysis of profit-taking in the supply chain. The CPCC appears to require written admissions of market manipulation in order to even consider that the abuse of a dominant market position by a few major players might exist. Our State-funded advisory body did not even realise that an explosion in the numbers of dairy calves would result from the dramatic expansion of the dairy herd. With this attitude, the acknowledgement of the important and unique position of the Irish suckler herd rings hollow.
Press Release 25 June 2020
The Beef Plan Movement notes Minister Creed’s announcement of a meeting of the Beef Market Task Force to be held this Thursday, 25th of June. We also note that he has remarked that invitations have been sent to participant organisations who have been invited to nominate their chosen representatives. We confirm that the Beef Plan Movement has received no such invitation at our registered address. We have however forwarded the names of our chosen representatives to Minister Creed. The Minister has advised us that he will not accept our representatives, effectively removing the Beef Plan Movement from the Task Force and once again leaving the beef farmers of Ireland without representation at this forum which was established specifically to deal with issues in the beef sector.
Minister Creed has failed the farmers of Ireland during his tenure and has presided over a seriously worsening situation for beef and suckler farmers in particular. By refusing to meet with our representatives, he is once again failing the beef farmers of the country and insulting the organisation which they established to negotiate on their behalf. The Beef Market Task Force cannot achieve any worthwhile result while the principal interested parties, beef farmers, remain outside. A cosy chat amongst old friends is not what is required in the deepening crisis in which we find ourselves.
The Minister’s action in this is a breach of the agreement entered into last September. Suckler and beef farmers fought hard last summer, spending long days and nights at factory gates, to achieve recognition and representation at the Beef Task Force. By now refusing to engage with us, the Minister is dismissing the concerns of beef farmers. He is effectively telling us that we beef and suckler farmers do not matter, that our futures and the future of rural Ireland do not matter. It would appear that the only persons allowed to attend Minister Creed’s Beef Task Force are those who represent the interests of other sectors or none at all. The shortly-departing Minister Creed will not have to face the consequences of his action (and inaction!) but we will hold the incoming government, of which he remains a part, to account for its treatment of the beef production industry.
lets talk about weekly beef kill
Let talk about "weekly beef kill" and carcass sizes. We are constantly being told that the poor prices farmers are receiving from processors are due to us producing "too much beef". This statement is backed up by the weekly beef kill figures. So how much beef are we actually producing?
We know that carcass sizes have gotten smaller and smaller over the years due to the quality assurance grid ensuring animals are killed "in spec" (i.e slaughtered younger with smaller carcasses) and also due to the increase in the dairy herd which naturally have smaller carcasses. As a result this "weekly beef kill" figure is not giving us a true picture of how much beef we are producing, to get a true picture we need to look at tonnage of beef produced. And thanks to the CSO we can do that(as far back as 1992), so here you go :
Tonnage of beef produced 1992-2017 :
1992 : 546,000, 1993 : 506,000, 1994 : 444,000, 1995 : 477,000, 1996 : 535,000, 1997 : 563,000
1998 : 591,000, 1999 : 641,000, 2000 : 576,000, 2001 : 579,000, 2002 : 540,000, 2003 : 567,000
2004 : 562,000, 2005 : 545,000, 2006 : 571,000, 2007 : 580,000, 2008 : 536,000, 2009 : 513,000
2010 : 558,000, 2011 : 546,000, 2012 : 495,000, 2013 : 518,000, 2014 : 582,000, 2015 : 564,000
2016 : 588,000, 2017 : 617,000
We can see from the above that the increase in beef production from 1992 to 2017 is only 71000 tons(13%) despite all of the farm efficiency improvements. This is however not the final figure as we also need to add beef imports into the equasion which accoring to the minister recently is beef that is imported, processed and then reexported, so lets subtract the beef imports.
In 2017 we imported 41000 tons of beef and in 1992 we imported 15000 tons. With the imports removed between the years 1992 and 2017 the increase in beef production was 26000 tons or just 4.6%! Does that really justify the farmer getting hammered on price by the beef processors?
CSO reference of where the figures above came from : https://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Database/eirestat/Supply%20Balances/Supply%20Balances_statbank.asp?SP=Supply%20Balances&Planguage=0