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. With regard to any suspected manipulation of the market I would ask the Deputy to bring forward any information or evidence he has in this regard to the Competition Authority of Ireland who have the power to investigate such matters.
My Department monitors prices paid for cattle in Ireland and 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 has softened significantly in the first quarter of 2014.
In this context I met with both farmer representatives and processors this month to discuss the current situation. Following that interaction, I called on the factories, in collaboration with the farming bodies, to work together 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.
The relationship between processors and farmers is an interdependent one. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of both sides working together to manage the type and volume of cattle being brought to market so that the supply chain does not undermine the viability of beef production systems for either winter finishers or suckler farmers. The current situation clearly underlines the need for industry operators to improve communication on market trends and signals throughout the supply chain and to address supply chain issues in such a context. An industry-led solution to the current uncertainty is essential to restoring confidence in the sector and I would encourage the various stakeholders to continue their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable outcome.
As a signal of this Government’s continued support for the beef sector I recently announced the 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 suckler beef sector. It exemplifies the smart, green growth initiatives envisioned in the Food Harvest 2020 strategy and, coupled with additional support measures under the new Rural Development Programme, will underpin the development of a sustainable beef sector with long-term growth potential.