There is no incentive for farmers to finish their cattle earlier due to the stagnant beef prices of recent months, according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).
The association’s beef committee chair, Edmund Graham said that in mid-December farmers were getting €5.10/kg for heifers and €5/kg for steers.
However, he said that since then there has not been “nearly enough upwards movement” and “certainly not enough to have finished cattle earlier over the winter months”.
“Throughput numbers are down on where they were this time last year and many factories have cut back to a four-day week – but market demand for beef remains strong. This should add up to farmers achieving a fairer price but that is not what we are seeing.
“Cattle prices have been languishing around the €5.20-€5.30 for months now despite repeated assurances that prices would increase significantly in early spring to offset inflated winter feeding costs,” Graham said.
The ICSA beef chair pointed to “conservative estimates” from Teagasc which said that prices would need to be around €6/kg by early spring to cover the basic costs of production.
“We haven’t come even close to that. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that any extra money spent on trying to finish cattle earlier would have been money down the drain.”
Graham said had farmers taken the decision last September to invest in finishing cattle earlier for the springtime they would have been badly stung.
“Finishing cattle earlier is not cost neutral – it costs money,” he said.
“It is an investment to commit to additional feeding and it’s a bad investment if farmers cannot achieve the price they need to justify the outlay”.
Graham called on meat factories and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to “engage in a real debate” with farmers on how they will provide sustainable prices for winter finishers.
“Environmental sustainability cannot be achieved by ignoring economic sustainability considerations,” the ICSA beef chair added.