Still fighting for a fair price for produce

28 Oct , 2021  

Now halfway through his second term, ICSA National Beef Chairman Edmund Graham is still as staunch as ever in his objective to get a fair price for produce when it comes to beef and try to return a better premium. Irish Tractor & Agri touched base with the Co Monaghan native recently to hear more.

More than three-and-a-half years on from his election as National Beef Chairman of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) and the fight continues for Edmund Graham.

Since ‘Day One’, it has been the Monaghan man’s aim to achieve a fair price for produce for farmers when it comes their beef.

Mr Graham’s focus is primarily on his weanling to beef and stores to beef enterprises.

Irish Tractor & Agri caught up with the man himself recently to find out more about some of the most important issues that he feels are out there in these times like no other.

“I’m half way through my second term now and I can tell you it’s still as tough trying to achieve anything,” Mr Graham stated.

“Beef prices have plummeted and then there was a beef Taskforce set-up, so it’s frustrating not being able to get what needs to be done for whatever reason. It’s still very hard to talk to the factories.”

On the Beef Taskforce itself, Mr Graham has previously commented: “In ICSA we are adamant that the Beef Taskforce must deliver real results for farmers and not just end up as a talking shop. 

“The last thing that we want to see is farmers getting angry again which is exactly what will happen if this Taskforce ends up being like all previous efforts to address the dysfunctional relationship between farmers and factories.

“Real transparency around who makes what along the food chain must be delivered, and excess profiteering on the part of processors and retailers must be exposed.”

Indeed, the ICSA National Beef Chairman has been quite vocal on a number of issues since his election in January 2018, repeatedly calling on farmers to seek higher beef prices from factories.

Just a month into his term, he had 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.”

More recent times have saw famers hit with even more challenges in the form of Brexit and, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We were afraid that tariffs would come in a few years ago and that added pressure with Brexit,” Mr Graham outlined.

“Covid was another spanner in the works last year. Food service and restaurants being shut down was a problem and the only real upside was that the production in the UK has gone down, so there has been a demand there.

“Beef consumption and sales of beef have risen here and that might be because more people have had more time cooking at home or whatever.

“We’ll just have to see what way things go from here now with the vaccine roll-out and restrictions easing and, with regards to the market for beef, the UK seems to be our best market at the moment.

“It’s our closest market and it’s our best market.”

Earlier this year, issues arose when beef prices were slashed by beef processors.

With some citing the Covid-19 pandemic as the reason for doing so at the time, Mr Graham said that there simply had been no logical reason for beef quotes being slashed to €3.70/kg and sought accountability for the drop in price.

“It was a big issue back in February,” he said. “A lot of things were improving and then, all of a sudden, meat factories slashed the prices of beef.

“Then, two weeks later, beef prices started to rise again. It became very evident and we were fighting to get answers why beef prices had been slashed.”

He continued: “We have an increase in the dairy herd and in the offspring, so we have to focus on getting markets for that.

“On top of that, our costs have gone up something serious. Fertiliser is up, steel is up – everything is up – so that’s something that needs to be considered as well.”

A farmer himself, the Ballyleck native runs a medium-sized operation which sees him more or less continually buying stock in a number of marts.

He also purchases cattle for a few other feeders and, from late summer into early spring, raises some store lambs as well.

Looking towards the months ahead, Mr Graham hopes for a dry summer and easier times for farmers over all.

“I’d like to see farmers getting a bit of an easier time,” he stated plainly.

“We need to stop with all of this climate change, which we seem to be getting blamed for. An animal is a natural thing, same as trees, and I wish that all of that would be sorted out.

“In all honesty, I feel like it’s very unfair the way that farmers are being portrayed at the minute.”

Edmund Graham ICSA National Beef Chairman
Co Monaghan
Tel: 086 171 3521

First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 5, September/October 2021