Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Questions (16)

Martin Ferris


16. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in view of the drop in cattle prices, if he is confident that we can achieve our Food Harvest 2020 targets. [13209/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Food Harvest 2020 strategy for Ireland’s agri-food industry is the result of a collaborative approach to policy making and includes as it does for all sectors of the industry, a vision for the beef sector developed and agreed by stakeholders, including farm bodies and processors.

With regard to prices, it should be noted that Irish beef prices were 106% of the EU average in 2013. The average price change over the first 10 weeks of this year is an approximate 1.8% reduction but it must be remembered that it is common for prices to decrease slightly in the first quarter of any year. It should also be noted that with the exception of 2013 the prices paid in the first 10 weeks of 2014 for Irish cattle are comparable to 2012 and significantly in excess of prices paid from 2008-2011.Nevertheless it is clear that for some farmers with certain categories of animals prices have softened significantly in the first quarter of 2014.

The period since the publication in 2010 of Food Harvest 2020 has generally been characterised by increases in beef export values and cattle prices. It would be unrealistic to think that the vision laid down in Food Harvest would never be challenged by market or other conditions. However, to view the significant progress made in the beef sector in recent years as a result of the commitment of Government, farmers and other stakeholders, through the prism of the current market difficulties alone, would, in my view, do a disservice to all of the stakeholders in this critically important sector. The principles laid down in Food Harvest constitute a vision for the sector which I am confident remains valid, despite the current price and specification difficulties. I am committed to ensuring that the measures announced this year, and the new Rural Development Programme, provide the tools to enable beef farmers to reduce costs and improve profitability and to make their enterprises more sustainable.

In relation to the current difficulties between farmers and processors, the Deputy will appreciate that ultimately questions of price and market specification are matters to be determined between the purchasers and the sellers of cattle and it is neither appropriate nor possible for me to intervene directly on these issues. Nonetheless I recently met farmer representatives and processers to discuss the current situation. Following that interaction, I am hopeful that the factories, in collaboration with the farming bodies, will be able to resolve the various issues that have lately caused difficulties for some producers. At my request, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) member companies have kept their livestock offices open to deal with farmers with any particular queries or concerns on the marketing of their stock. MII member companies have made available contact details for each of their main plants to enable farmers to phone them directly.

As an indication of Government support for the sector, actions identified in Food Harvest and the subsequent Beef Activation Group Report as necessary for the development of the beef sector have been implemented. Indeed in 2014, I announced operational details of an investment package worth up to €40m to beef farmers in 2014. Among the measures in this investment package are €23m for a Beef Genomics Scheme, €10m for the Beef Data Programme, €5m for the Beef Technology Adoption Programme and €2m in residual payments under the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme. The Government’s investment is a strong vote of confidence in the beef sector.