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Coveney Chairs Seventh Meeting of Beef Roundtable

PRODUCER ORGANISATIONS IN THE BEEF SECTOR TO BE LEGALLY RECOGNISED FOR THE FIRST TIME

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney T.D. today chaired the seventh meeting of the Beef Roundtable and the third one this year. The meeting discussed proposals to recognise Producer Organisations in the Beef Sector, which will give formal recognition to POs for the first time in Ireland, as well as an update on beef markets and  upcoming initiatives in animal health. As always the meeting also reviewed the implementation of the Agreement from last November’s Roundtable. Minister Coveney also referred to the recent discussions on climate change and urged stakeholders to adopt a collaborative approach to articulating the very positive contribution being made by agriculture to improving carbon efficiency.

Commenting on the meeting the Minister said “I established the Beef Roundtable in April 2014 in order to improve communications between all stakeholders in the sector. It is only through dialogue and a common focus on the issues which face the sector that will deliver progress required to drive it further. I’m pleased to say that now after seven meetings we have delivered much greater transparency to the sector and have  delivered on a number of key targets which even twelve months ago seemed difficult.

Of course we do not have universal agreement on all issues and there will always be new issues to be faced but we have a forum which allows for open and honest discussion between all sides and allows for consideration of trade, climate and other strategic issues impacting on the beef sector in Ireland. It is critically important to maintain this strategic focus, but of course this does not obviate the need for continuing, frequent and open engagement between processors suppliers on market issues”.

On the issue of transparency the Minister said that his Department had introduced significant upgrades to the Department’s Beef Pricewatch App which now allow for price comparisons between factories across five grades of each animal as well as bringing together each week the number and weights of animals slaughtered in each grid category. Commenting on this the Minister said “improving price transparency has been one of the key goals of the Roundtable from the outset and the Beef Pricewatch App has transformed price transparency for sellers of cattle and since its launch earlier this year is averaging over 1,000 hits per week. It has become the price comparison tool of choice for farmers here and marks our beef sector as the most transparent in the EU in terms of price information available. We are constantly reviewing it and the upgrades announced today will make it even more user friendly and add new layers of information to further improve transparency”.

The Roundtable today also received presentations from Bord Bia on the market outlook for the sector and from Animal Health Ireland on its plans for initiatives in beef health. Teagasc also updated on the publication of its production blueprints for farmers since the last meeting of the Roundtable. Commenting on these the Minister said “the input of the State Agencies has been key to the functioning of the Roundtable. I was pleased to note in Bord Bia’s presentation today that prices have continued to remain stable in the second half of this year and that key export markets for both beef and live exports are continuing to take Irish produce in big numbers. The outlook for 2016 is challenging and will require vigilance on all our parts to ensure that it can continue to deliver for the sector. From Animal Health Ireland we received a very timely presentation on their plans for initiatives particularly in tackling IBR. Improving animal health remains a key goal for all of us given its impact on farm profitability.

A major outcome of today’s Roundtable was the confirmation from the Minister that he is to legislate to give formal recognition to Producer Organisations in the beef sector for the first time in Ireland. Producer Organisations are groups of farmers in the same sector who join together to negotiate for improved inputs and outputs for their members. Commenting on this development “the Minister said this has been one of the key outcomes of last November’s roundtable agreement and marks an historic breakthrough for Irish beef farmers who now for the first time will have a legal framework allowing for negotiation directly with factories on price as a group. As we have seen from other sectors,  POs can greatly help to rebalance the supply chain by strengthening the hand of producers who will now have a structure for negotiating collectively. They also provide a vehicle for negotiating cheaper inputs as well as acting as knowledge transfer outlets for their members. In addition to legislating for their recognition which I will do before the end of the year I have also committed to funding a network of facilitators who will assist interested farmers in establishing these groups. I will be announcing further details on this early in 2016”.

On the November Roundtable conclusions the Minister said “we had a detailed discussion on the implementation of last November’s agreement. Many of the positive developments have continued to improve the functioning of the sector. Where appropriate I have responded with initiatives in response to the agreement between the stakeholders and today for example I confirmed that my Department is making an adjustment to its AIM system so that the number of farm residencies of each animal is even clearer when presented for slaughter.  There were discussions on certain aspects of customer specifications for beef on which there continues to be some disagreement and I urged the parties to remain in contact to try and resolve these market issues. I reminded the processors in particular of their obligation to provide timely notice of changes to market specifications.

In conclusion the Minister said, ”2015 has been a better year for Irish beef, but there is no room for complacency. There will be challenges ahead There have been a number of developments during the year, and the sector has successfully articulated its vision for the future in the Food Wise 2025 Report. We now have a €4bn Rural Development fund for the agri-food sector with benefits for the beef sector through the beef genomics, knowledge transfer, GLAS and Tams for One aspect which Food Wise 2025 pays particular attention to is the opportunities which exist on international markets. We have opened new international markets in five new Countries this year including the US and Canada with trade to China expected to commence next year. It’s also a sector with challenges of course and we discussed today latest developments in the TTIP and Mercosur negotiations on which I am closely engaging with the relevant European Commissioners. All in all I believe we can be very confident that this is a sector with a vibrant future which will continue to deliver for rural Ireland for many years to come”.

Date Released: 17 December 2015