The ICMSA president, Jackie Cahill, has returned to his organisation's previous criticism of the Beef Grid and has repeated his conviction that the Grid has actually undermined confidence amongst the majority of beef producers.
"The current beef price grid is not working. It will never be accepted by the mass of farmers as being proper and fair. This grid has caused nothing but controversy and has massively undermined confidence among farmers producing cattle. It has achieved nothing positive", stated the ICMSA President.
"How is it that we in Ireland have the unhappy knack of complicating things to no useful purpose? Why must things that weren't broken be fixed? People always levelled this allegation against our Civil Service – and rightly so. But then we have our own sector adopting the most complicated price grid in Europe . This might have been tolerable if it was providing prices among the highest in Europe , but the exact reverse is the case. So we end up with what is by far the most complex price grid in Europe, but prices that are among the lowest in Europe", continued Mr Cahill.
"The current grid is so complicated – with the 225 possible prices – that it cannot in its present form send any real market signal to farmers, which is supposed to be one of the prime functions of any beef price grid system. Indeed, it is not uncommon for individuals with a load of 15 cattle to get up to 15 different prices. Furthermore, the ability of farmers and agents, with years of experience with cattle, to give a reasonable estimation of the possible "grading out" of cattle is completely undermined by the current grid. This is a fundamental and fatal flaw in the grid. There is now less effective transmission of market signals than in the past."
Mr Cahill also said that, in addition, the price differentials between various grades are grossly unfair and tend to penalise the majority of Irish cattle to a far greater extent than required or was being returned from the market place to meat factories.
"Unfortunately I am forced by my own direct experience to come to the conclusion that the grid was designed in an unrepresentative way where the majority of farmers lose out and the gains are for a relatively small group of farmers and meat factories. This is the view held by the majority of farmers, right across the country", he went on.
"ICMSA is in favour of a price grid, which is fair and simple. It must be fair to all producers regardless of the type of cattle produced and in this regard, I think that the word quality is misleading and does not do justice for the vast majority of cattle produced in Ireland . If dairy expansion occurs in Ireland there will be a higher proportion of slaughter animals coming from the dairy herd. The system must also be simple so that it is clearly understood and, more particularly, gives definite straightforward signals to farmers producing and finishing animals. I believe that the kind of beef price grid that operates in Scotland , which effectively groups cattle under three prices, has a lot of merit and would usefully form the basis of a substantially modified price grid for Ireland . Last week, I formally proposed this to all meat plant operators. It is important to note that the Scottish system produces a product which is viewed as being a premier product within one of our more important markets: the UK ", pointed out the ICMSA President.
"Farmers are demanding that we return to the drawing boards and get the basics right. There should be fairness and transparency in the system. Another issue that requires detailed assurances is the area of cross checking of the mechanical grading equipment. So far the Department of Agriculture have failed to make fully available all the information on inspections. Our policy is that a regime similar to that which operates in the dairy sector – where the results of inspections are published – should also apply in the beef sector. This is required to build and retain confidence in the mechanical grading system."
Mr Cahill concluded by advising farmers to demand that a system is put in place which would provide for the proper valuation for their cattle. He said the current flawed system would never achieve this.