Malcolm Thompson, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, told members attending the agm in Dublin that “as producers, we can’t survive a race to the bottom. We can’t survive competing on the commodity markets against farms with huge advantages of scale, cheap labour and low regulation.
“We can’t be the Ryanair of beef production - we need to be the BMW. We need to ensure that Irish
beef and lamb are the automatic choice of the most affluent and health-conscious.”
Addressing agriculture minister Mary Coughlan, Thompson called for a huge
investment in the marketing and branding of Irish beef and lamb, using the dairy industry’s highly successful Kerrygold model and making the most of the country’s clean, green image. Much greater investment was also needed, he said, in R&D, particularly in added value.
Thompson urged the minister to take the lead in other areas too. “The old reliance on many markets, including Russia, Lebanon and Algeria, will have to go,” he said, “as will our dependence on supermarket chains. We need strong support to help develop direct sales from farm groups to the consumer, and financial backing for direct sales via the internet.
“All bureaucratic barriers to direct sales must be removed and the government must help in promoting and developing farmers’ markets.”
The fact that the end was in sight for Irish sugar beet production in the wake of EU reforms, which involved a 36% price cut, should be a sharp lesson for beef producers, he said. Producers had to think radically and imaginatively about how to secure their industry and their livelihoods.