Thursday, 19 September 2019

Questions (179)

Brendan Smith

Question:

179. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the outcome of the recent discussions with stakeholders relating to the difficulties facing the beef sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38140/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

There have been a series of formal negotiations with beef stakeholders, facilitated by my Department, since early August, culminating in an agreement being reached between stakeholders on Sunday 15 September. I have also had ongoing contacts with farming organisations, representatives and individual farmers to try to seek a resolution to this dispute.

 The parties to the Agreement reached on 15 September are:

- Meat Industry Ireland                                           

- Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association

- Macra na Feirme                                                     

- Independent Farmers Organisation of Ireland

- Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association           

- Beef Plan Movement

- Irish Farmers Association                                       

- Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association

The full text of the Agreement is available at:

https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/media/migration/farmingsectors/beef/Agreement15September170919.pdf

 The Agreement involves a number of interventions which will provide immediate benefit for beef producers, as well as a range of strategic measures which seek to address structural imbalances in the sector.

 As part of the deal, beef producers will benefit from an immediate increase in a range of bonuses, as follows:

- an increase of 66% in the current in-spec bonus for steers and heifers from 12c/kg  to 20c/kg;

- the introduction of a new bonus of 8c/kg for steers and heifers aged between 30 to 36 months,  which meet all non-age related existing in-spec criteria, and which up to now  have not received any bonus; 

- the introduction of a new in-spec bonus of 12c/kg for steers and heifers under 30 months in the categories of grade O- and fat score 4+ , which currently do not qualify for any bonus.

- the in-spec 70 day residency requirement will be reduced to 60 days on the last farm.

These measures offer an immediate financial benefit for beef farmers. They both increase the level of bonus being paid and increase significantly the number of animals which are eligible for a bonus. The cumulative effect is that over 70% of all steer and heifers slaughtered will now be eligible for a bonus on top of the base price paid. 

A Beef Market Task Force will be established to provide leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability.  I will appoint an independent Chair for the Taskforce, which will include my Department, relevant State agencies and nominees from farm organisations and the meat industry.  The Taskforce will provide for a robust implementation structure for commitments entered into in this Agreement, with timelines and stakeholder engagement.  Furthermore, the Beef Market Taskforce will offer a suitable platform for strategic engagement with key stakeholders, including retailers and regulatory authorities.

My Department is proactively engaging with several potential beef Producer Organisations, which have the potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. The first beef Producer Organisation was approved by my Department last week.

A number of actions in the area of market transparency, beef promotion and strengthening the position of the farmer in the supply chain are included in the Agreement. For example:

- an immediate scientific review of the Quality Payment Grid by Teagasc;

- an independent review of market and customer requirements, specifically in relation to the four in-spec bonus criteria currently in operation in the Irish beef sector;

The agreed measures set a course towards greater clarity for all stakeholders involved in the beef supply chain, primarily farmers.  The entry into force of the Agreement is contingent on the cessation of all protests and blockades.  All parties to the Agreement took responsibility for ensuring that this would happen, by recommending the Agreement to those they represent.  I would appeal to all those still protesting to consider the agreement carefully and to give it a chance to take effect, in the interest of their fellow farmers and the future of the beef sector.