I wish to inform the Deputy that since the onset of the recent crisis in the beef sector particularly in relation to the bull trade, I have met separately with representatives of both the farm organisations (IFA, ICMSA, ICSA) and meat factories (MII) in February and March this year to see what assistance I could give to resolving their difficulties.
Following these initial meetings, I decided to bring all stakeholders in the sector to roundtable discussions chaired by myself. The purpose of these roundtable discussions with key stakeholders in the beef sector, which includes representatives from IFA, ICMSA, ICSA, MII, Teagasc and Bord Bia, is to reflect on recent developments in the sector and set out a series of actions that will aid viability across the supply chain in light of current market conditions.
So far this year there have been two Beef Roundtable Discussions, on 17 April and 3 June. I believe that all sides agree that these discussions are a worthwhile exercise and the constructive engagement of participants confirms my belief that ongoing dialogue and collaboration, supported by the Government, is essential to improving the interdependent relationship between and producers and processors. The positive outcome of the roundtable discussions is reflected in the various measures announced so far. These include:
- the Beef Roundtable discussions will reconvene quarterly to exchange intelligence on market developments and forecasts particularly in relation to supply, demand, prices, product specifications, retail changes etc;
- a commitment to launching a ‘Beef Pricewatch’ online tool to make price information more accessible and free of charge to farmers,
- Mr. Michael Dowling, Chairman of the Beef 2020 Activation Group was asked to look at the role that specifications play in the young bull production and prices and to review implementation of the Group’s report. His report made a number of recommendations on which I have asked the roundtable participants to reflect and consider.
- My Department will prioritise its targeted on-farm capital investments for suckler farmers through the new Rural Development Programme;
- Bord Bia has allocated €0.5m to expand and target promotion of Irish beef through its campaigns in the UK and in certain continental markets;
- Teagasc will intensify its efforts to enable farmers to maximise on-farm efficiencies through lowering input costs and increasing output value to deliver a better margin for suckler farmers and finishers. This assistance will include advice on adapting productions systems to meet market specifications; &
- I have undertaken discussions with my Northern counterpart, Ms Michelle O’Neill, on issues relevant to the sector including cross-border trade.
The second Roundtable discussions were open and lively and all sides (farmers, meat processors and officials) committed themselves to continuing the process. For the next Roundtable discussions my Department will follow up on improving the Beef Pricewatch information available to farmers as well as examining the role Producer Organisations could play in establishing a better price for beef farmers.
The Deputy will also be aware that one of my priorities since taking office has been the continued development of the beef sector. The Government’s commitment to primary production in the sector is evidenced by an investment package worth up to €40m to beef farmers in 2014 allied with a number of progressive schemes to be implemented over the lifetime of the new RPD. Taken together with the leadership provided by my roundtable initiative, beef farmers have the necessary supports to enhance the profitability and sustainability of their livestock enterprises.
In my view the work following on from the Beef Roundtable discussions taken together with the investment outlined above and further support for beef farmers from the new Rural Development Programme (RDP) will mean that the targets set for the sector in Food Harvest 2020 will be achieved.