Aiming for “a fair price for produce”

31 Oct , 2018  

In January, Monaghan beef farmer Edmund Graham was elected as the national beef chairman for the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA). Irish Tractor & Agri caught up with the man himself recently to hear about the plans he has in place for his two-year term and some of the most important issues that he feels are out there at the present time.

These past six months have flown by for Edmund Graham after he was elected as the ICSA’s national beef chairman and the next 18 months of his term aren’t likely to drag on either, considering the work load. Mr Graham has been a busy man since being elected by the association’s National Executive during its AGM and Annual Conference which took place in Abbeyleix, Co Laois in the third week of the New Year. A native of Ballyleck in Co Monaghan, he has made no secret of the fact that his primary focus is on his weanling to beef and stores to beef enterprises.

“It’s a two-year term and I’d been chairman in Monaghan beforehand,” he outlined on his election in January. “The aim now is to try and get a fair price for produce and try and return a better premium. We’re working on it, but it’s very hard to talk to the factories.”

Since his election, Mr Graham has been quite vocal on a number of issues and has repeatedly called on farmers to look for higher beef prices from factories. A little over a month into his term, he pointed out that factory supplies were low as a result of the bad weather and that farmers with a high number of cattle were in a strong position to get a price above the typical quotes available at the time.

He stated at the time: “The reality is that winter finishers have endured a long hard winter and the prices available this spring have been totally inadequate to cover the costs involved. The empty supermarket shelves show that farmers are the vital link in the food chain and it is timely to demand a price that reflects the importance of the job we do.

“Consumers who take cheap food for granted need to realise that they are only ever a few days away from a food scarcity panic and that the supermarket model of squeezing the farmer is barely sustainable.”

Another weather related issue which Mr Graham feels needs addressing is the national fodder crisis. He says he finds it difficult to envision just how the current situation can be sustained and is eager on a plan being put together to solve what is very much a national issue.

“The fodder crisis… that’s the second fodder crisis we’ve had in two years,” Mr Graham pointed out. “I do not think that we are a country that’s going to be able to sustain what we’re doing and what we have been doing. To be honest, I can’t get it into my head how we’re going to succeed.

“They tell us to keep producing, get everything out early but look at the weather we’re getting. I think we’re going to have to listen to ourselves more and understand what your farm is capable of achieving. The future has to be about getting a plan into action.”

In April, the ICSA delegation was in Leinster House to step up pressure for a greater response to the fodder crisis, with the beef chairman and suckler chairman John Halley both in attendance.

On the issue of Brexit, Mr Graham stated in the days after his election that the possibility of Irish beef being excluded from the UK market would be the “death knell” for farmers in this country. He also said he was hopeful of the situation being avoided but felt that if it came to be that other markets out there simply would not suffice for the loss of Irish beef being exported to the UK.

“It is our most important market,” he stated plainly. “The volume of beef we have going over to the UK – we simply could not be doing without that market.

“All things have to be considered, but hopefully the UK will still want to do business with us.”

Indeed Brexit is a main focus for the ICSA’s national beef chairman and he points to Mercosur and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as being the other core two. Further afield, the Chinese market has become a popular topic for Irish farmers as of late. However, Mr Graham feels that they’ll have to see a price rise before it can be deemed as a success.

“The new market is open for China and no doubt it will be very interesting to see what comes out of that. The reality is it takes money to get more produce out there,” he stated.

A farmer himself, Mr Graham took on a second farm two years back following the passing of his father Malcolm. He’s a man that knows what the Irish farmer wants and now finds himself in a unique position where he can make things happen.

As alluded to earlier, it’s his aim now to try and get a better and fairer price for produce while trying to return a better premium. His own experience in beef farming can’t be called into question either.

“I’d my own farm these past 15 years then my father passed away and I took over the second farm two years ago,” he explained. “I’ve a medium-sized farm you could say and I’m more or less continually buying stock in a number of marts. I’d also purchase cattle for a few other feeders. From late summer into early spring I raise some store lambs as well.”

On his hopes going forward, the Monaghan man concluded: “Over the next few weeks we’ll be hoping for dry weather. The silage season could be late and if the weather doesn’t pick up we could be facing another fodder crisis already for next year.”

Edmund Graham ICSA National Beef Chairman
Co Monaghan

Tel: 086 1713521

Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 6 No 4, June/July 2018

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