Foreign gains cannot be at the cost of home comforts

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]upermac’s supremo Pat McDonagh once said that he left the teaching profession to embark upon the fast food route because there was “more money in chips than algebra”. In the case of the fast food magnate, such resoundingly proved to be the case. It’s doubtful, however, would potato growers be entirely in agreement.

The mathematics for those in the pigmeat sector won’t have been very delectable either. Which will in turn have made the recent revelation that a high percentage of what was being sold in some outlets as Irish pig produce wasn’t so at all even more unpalatable for people such as IFA Pig Committee Chairman Pat O’Flaherty and those he represents.

Some years back, Mr O’Flaherty featured on an Ear To The Ground segment on pig production, the nub of which was that consumers were generally able to differentiate between pigmeat which was produced free range and that which was produced in larger, housed feedlots.

Now, while different tastes might be easier to decipher than where an animal originated, you’d at least hope that ordinary buyers wouldn’t be overly enamoured at the prospect of buying foreign produce in preference to our own. And even less so at being duped into doing so by misleading marketing.

Of course, ultimately, the real loss takers in this unseemly and disturbing affair are pig farmers themselves. Given that input costs pertinent to that sector have increased markedly over time, while prices have at the same time contracted, having to deal with the further drawbacks from imported product leaves their chances of making a margin even more precarious. Even allowing for a 4c/kg rise in price which came to light as this piece was in production. €1.48/kg doesn’t look a great price for anything, does it?

From a beef perspective, there has been an understandable and justified degree of furore stemming from the re-opening of export markets to the US and, latterly, China. This coming upsides a situation whereby mart prices are running a good bit ahead of this time last year, while factory prices have also been positive in the main. Though some processors have more recently been scaling back returns to farmers. This is something a close watch needs to be kept on.

All of which underscores gut feeling that foreign gains – such as those likely to derived via market access to America and China – cannot be at the cost of home comforts. In other words, those in positions of influence need to detach themselves from the bandwagon and remain mindful of what’s going on at ground level.

Whether it be imported pigmeat, a slippage in beef factory prices or the very real threat to sustainability in the dairy sector as the end of the quota era hurtles ever nearer, there are plenty of serious issues to be grappled with.

In a similar previous post within these column inches, the point was made that, in conversation with a dairy farmer over Christmas, the plain reality that operators in the sector need a price of 40c/l to ensure stability at farm level was made very clear. Thus, to see price quotes 10c/l below that every before the forthcoming momentous days have taken hold is gravely worrying.

Mention was also afforded previously to the fact that tentative attempts at finishing a bunch of heifers were going to be undertaken. Was this decision influenced by the re-opening of the US market? Probably. However – and this may be just me and if so apologies for my ignorance – is there not a lack of clarity surrounding the issue?

Don’t get me wrong, of course being a player in such highly lucrative markets again is a massive positive. But, depending on where you look, there are differing reports as to what cuts of beef have thus far been granted access. Naturally, during the recent high level PR mission in the US, the high end steak houses were the eateries of choice.

Yet, there appears – to me at least – to be a conflict as to what cuts have made it in so far, if one is to go by what’s being reported in certain sections of the agricultural media. Where some are saying there’s big demand for manufacturing beef, other outlets would have you believe clearance for that exact commodity has still to be granted. I know what the recent spike in cull cow prices suggests to me!

Either way, what’s important is there’s now Irish beef going to these places. Which is encouraging as thoughts turn to calf purchases. Sure with a stretch in the evenings and the best part of the farming year ahead, isn’t a degree of optimism mandatory!


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