This is an article presented on behalf of the national Beef Plan committee, penned by public officer, Emma McCormack - a 22-year-old student of Agriculture.
Our current situation
The Irish beef sector has been pushed to its knees and if changes are not made now, it will be a thing of the past. We need you to help. You that are reading this now, can help to put fairness; equality and respect back into the beef sector.
There are many people and organisations who can be blamed for why we have gotten to where we are.
Farm unions whose sole purpose was to keep the best interests of the farmer in mind, have failed us miserably, time and time again. Our government have let us down and penalised us beyond recovery. We have failed ourselves also. Over the past decade, beef farmers have slowly descended into a deeper and deeper abyss.
Profit margins have disintegrated to nothing. We have continued to produce beef which is recognised globally as a world-class product, yet we have watched our profit disappear into minus figures.
Having never had a plan and never expected our businesses to become a non-profit occupation, we allowed this to happen. It is important to realise how this has happened and why, in order to learn from it and hopefully solve the problem.
The majority of beef farmers will have realised by now, that they are on their own within the sector. It is us, against them. Them being the government; well-known farm unions; retailers; and meat processors. They have all planned their ascent over the past few years, and never worried about us.
That brings us to now, when we have one chance only, to step up and use our voice. As much as nobody wants to think about it, the beef sector in Ireland is not a place that young people strive to be. Graduates have not spent thousands of euros and in excess of four years on their education to enter a sector where farmers are cheated, lied to; disrespected and underpaid.
If we do not stand up now and make a change, beef farmers in Ireland will soon be totally out of business. The Beef Plan 2018-2025 is a newly established group of farmers who have pooled their ideas on how we can turn things around and take back what we own.
Every Irish beef farmer needs to back this initiative to see the real benefits. The factories have the power, the government are in power and so are the retailers - does this sound fair to you?
We the primary producers
Farmers own the land which Irish beef is produced from. Farmers own the cattle, which supply the Irish beef market and beyond. Farmers are the primary producer of Irish beef, doing the longest, toughest job within the beef industry.
For up to two-and-a-half-years, animals are reared. The cows must be fed and looked after well. The calves must be delivered into this world which is often a laborious and dangerous job for the farmer. These same calves must be cared for meticulously and nurtured through the weaning process.
Through long winter months, cold, dark nights and icy early mornings, animals are housed and fed. Sick animals must be cared for, regardless of the costs. The weather often turns on us, feed and fuel bills accumulate and we wait patiently for spring to arrive.
Beef farmers play different roles in the long process from calving a cow to finishing her calf. Some stay for the whole journey, some play their part at the beginning, the end or somewhere in between but it is not an easy job for anyone.
It would all be worth it if the money was there. No business I know can stay going while working at a loss. The people with the power to make a change, do not care. They throw pity payments at us to keep us quiet.
To keep us producing a product we are not being paid for. A very valuable product, which others are seeing the benefits of. It is time to stand up and say we have had enough.
We have the power when we unite. We are making a reasonable request; to be paid fairly for the work we do, and we have the means to achieve this in numbers. Basic payments; GLAS income; BDGP and Suckler Cow payments are all welcome additions, but they should not be the sole income of a beef farmer.
If the only money you’re making, to keep you afloat, is coming from the government, then that is not farming. It is slave labour. It is similar to being on the dole, relying on payments. Except that we work harder than any other sector in the world. We have no days off, we cannot afford to hire relief help and we have nowhere to turn in a crisis.
The number of people within the farming industry, who have committed or attempted to commit suicide is frightening. To think that someone you know, a neighbour or a relative, is so consumed by the trouble the beef sector is in, feels that they have no way out, is appalling.
Fighting our own battle:
To think that those in power are fully aware of what is happening, and are doing nothing, is absurd. Our government; our Taoiseach Leo Varadker; our minister for agriculture Michael Creed and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, should be ashamed of themselves.
They like to act as if they care about the issue and are concerned, yet if this were true, we would not be in this position. An epidemic is ongoing. The beef sector in Ireland is in big trouble. A crisis is the only way to describe it.
I doubt there are many families in Ireland and beyond, who do not consume beef once if not several times per week. The sale of beef is not an issue.
The marketing of our produce may be an issue in that the governing bodies of Irish agriculture aren’t advertising globally a product that will without a doubt, sell. Finding consumers of our produce is not an issue, but as mentioned governing bodies aren’t looking hard enough because they simply do not care.
The price we are receiving, or rather, not receiving, for a product of extremely high-quality, is the main issue. It cannot wait and we must deal with the problem now.
The beef plan in its entirety can be accessed on the website. Here you can register to back the plan; make suggestions to how the plan can be improved,; eek contact details of others also behind the plan, and join the army we have created.
Every person who joins has the power to make a difference. Make a difference to yourself and the generations to come after you. We work hard, we produce an excellent product and we are due payment for it. We have had enough of being disrespected and insulted. Now is the time to act.
The plan itself depicts many potential changes which are needed within the sector, in order for farmers to do their job, fairly. There is enough money in the sector for everyone, it simply is not being distributed fairly. For factories to push our animals through their system in record time and take home 29% of the retail price, is incomprehensible.
We rear the animal for up to two-and-a-half years, and make 20% of the retail price, if even. This amount does not cover the costs of producing the animal for slaughter.
Then, as if that is not absurd enough, to think that retailers who merely withhold the product on their shelves for a few short hours are taking home a profit of 51% is totally and completely unacceptable.
Can anyone outline to me, and the thousands and thousands of other outraged farmers, how this is in any way fair, just or acceptable? I would love to hear from you.
The main issue with factories is that the same group of people are in control of 60% of the overall beef kill in Ireland; the UK and further afield. They have planned this dictatorship and have succeeded. They have the ultimate position of power and control and can fix prices how and when they like, utterly exploiting farmers.
Enough is enough
Our Minister for Agriculture looks on, happily tucking into his sirloin steak on a Wednesday evening, not bothered by the price he paid for it or how much of that went to the farmer who went to the trouble of producing it.
If it were not for our love of the land, the farming lifestyle and it being in our blood, most beef farmers would have thrown in the towel. No other business owner would be able to continue on as we have. Some farmers have been pushed into dairy, feeling they had no other choice.
Other have sought off-farm income, to be able to fund their money-losing beef enterprise. We have reached rock bottom, and now is the time to take action, before it is too late.
Please join us in taking back what we own and demanding the respect we deserve. A quick visit to the site will allow you to make direct contact with fellow farmers in the Beef Plan and help to fix the problem safely and quickly.
We are the farmers. We own land. We own the cattle. We own the beef. We run the beef sector. Were it not for us, there would be no quality Irish beef on any shelf of any shop or butcher in this country. So now the opportunity is here to stand up, use your voice and take back the control of our own sector. For ourselves, our children and for their children.
Do not sit back and complain about how little money there is for beef farmers in Ireland. Now is your chance to change that. A united beef sector has the power to put a fair system into action. Who else knows what we want and deserve, but us farmers ourselves?
With new regulations, new farm unions, fairly operating producer groups and decent prices for our beef, we can continue to beef farm in a profitable, enjoyable way, but only if you help us.
We need you and your help
Help us, to help you. This is our one and only chance to take back what we have built before it is gone.
Visit here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can point you in the right direction, to helping create a profitable and sustainable beef sector in Ireland.
Image source: File photo - Credit: Tricia Kennedy