Scrap grad­ing to save suck­ler sec­tor: ICSA

Pro­ces­sors urged to ‘move into the 21st cen­tury’ and base pay­ments on meat yields

Irish Independent - Farming - - FRONT PAGE - LOUISE HO­GAN

A PHAS­ING out of the cur­rent cat­tle grad­ing sys­tem and a move to pay­ment based on meat yield is be­ing sought by the ICSA.

The dry­s­tock farm­ers’ body has chal­lenged Ire­land’s beef in­dus­try “to move into the 21st cen­tury” and re­ward farm­ers by pay­ing for the lean meat their slaugh­tered cat­tle de­liver.

This rad­i­cal over­haul of beef pay­ments is be­ing sought against a back­ground of fall­ing fac­tory prices and grow­ing anger among beef pro­duc­ers, as pro­ces­sors con­tinue to quote as low as €3.75/kg for steers.

ICSA pres­i­dent Pa­trick Kent claimed that the cur­rent fac­tory grad­ing ma­chines were out­dated, the cur­rent beef grid and pay­ment sys­tem was not trusted by farm­ers, and suck­ler cow num­bers were in dan­ger of collapsing due to abysmal farmer re­turns.

“Pay­ment on meat yield is the sin­gle most im­por­tant strat­egy that could rein­vig­o­rate the struggling suck- ler sec­tor,” Mr Kent said. “If we want suck­lers, we need to de­liver prices that re­flect the cost of the sys­tem. Suck­ler-bred an­i­mals are not get­ting the bonus that they de­serve un­der the cur­rent [pay­ment] sys­tem,” he added.

ICSA is call­ing for pay­ment on meat yield to move cen­tre stage at the Beef Fo­rum, and the as­so­ci­a­tion has in­vited the beef breed so­ci­eties to con­trib­ute to the de­bate.

Mov­ing to a meat yield sys­tem of pay­ing for cat­tle would ne­ces­si­tate the re­place­ment of the coun­try’s ana­logue fac­tory grad­ing tech­nol­ogy with more pre­cise dig­i­tal equip­ment that could ac­cu­rately cal­cu­late the lean meat con­tent of car­casses.

ICSA said the ex­ist­ing fac­tory grad­ing ma­chines were out­dated and this had been high­lighted at last month’s In­ter­na­tional Congress of Meat Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy in Cork. Mr Kent said that farmer dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the cur­rent beef grid needed to be ac­cepted and ad­dressed by the beef in­dus­try.

“Farmer trust in the grid sys­tem con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor is­sue. Meat yield pay­ment, us­ing mod­ern dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, should re­sult in the farmer get­ting a price in closer align­ment with what is sold on the shelf,” he pointed out.

Al­though ICSA ac­cepted that any changeover to pay­ing for cat­tle by meat yield will take time and will need EU ap­proval, the as­so­ci­a­tion in­sisted that now is the time to be­gin the de­bate.

“The re­al­ity is that com­peti­tor beef ex­port­ing na­tions such as Aus­tralia are also mov­ing in this di­rec­tion,” Mr Kent said. ICSA suck­ler chair­man John Hal­ley said that suck­ler farm­ers have been look­ing for a sig­nal that there is a fu­ture for their sec­tor.

“Suck­ler farm­ing can­not sur­vive un­der a sys­tem where meat yield is not fully re­flected and where weight and age are used to pe­nalise qual­ity an­i­mals,” Mr Hal­ley said.

“Schemes such as the BDGP are not enough to tackle the is­sue of low in­comes in suck­ling. The bot­tom line for most farm­ers is that they want a fair re­turn from the mar­ket­place,” he added.

Meat In­dus­try Ire­land’s Cor­mac Healy said they would en­gage in dis­cus­sions on saleable meat yield but it was not on the agenda in the short­term. “The cur­rent grad­ing sys­tem is com­pul­sory by virtue of EU leg­is­la­tion and we have an au­to­mated sys­tem that works well,” he said.

How­ever, they are look­ing at tech­ni­cal up­grades that could be ap­plied to the cur­rent sys­tem, such as chang­ing ana­logue cam­eras to dig­i­tal, and hope to have those tri­alled shortly.

Both the EU Com­mis­sion and Tea­gasc have pre­dicted a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in Ire­land’s suck­ler herd by 2025. It cur­rently num­bers around one mil­lion cows.

More beef is ex­pected to come from the dairy herd, with a con­se­quent de­cline in the meat yield from these lighter an­i­mals. Al­ready this year fac­to­ries report an av­er­age drop of 6kgs/ an­i­mal in meat yield.

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