This paper’s primary aim is to assess the challenges and opportunities facing the beef sector, with a view to establishing a framework for its development over the medium to long term.
The beef industry is one of Ireland’s most important indigenous industries and comprises a vital part of the agri-food sector. In excess of 100,000 Irish farms have a beef enterprise, with the sector comprising over 1 million suckler cows (in 65,000 herds) and the surplus progeny from the dairy herd. In 2008 annual turnover was some €2 billion, with beef exports amounting to some €1.69 billion2. A significant factor affecting the supply line to the processing sector is the live export trade, which amounted to almost 148,000 head in 2008 and was valued at some €100 million. The live trade has two components: finished animals that are exported live to, and processed in, the UK; and shipments of young calves/weanlings, which are within 15/18 months of finishing, mainly to the Continent where they are farmed to maturity and sold to the domestic processing industry.
Ireland exports over 90% of its beef production. It is the largest net exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere, and the 4th largest beef exporter in the world. In 2008, some 483,000 tonnes of beef were exported; the vast majority to the high-value EU marketplace, with exports to the UK amounting to 261,000 tonnes and those to continental EU markets to 217,000 tonnes. In the period since 2000, the share of Irish exports to the lower value and more volatile non-EU markets has declined from over 50% to less than 2.5%.
Over 90% of output is fresh beef that is supplied to retail, food services and manufacturing clients in Ireland and across the EU. This contrasts with the situation less than 10 years ago when the majority of beef produced by the beef processing industry was lower value frozen product.
Current Sectoral Goals
Despite this rapid transformation it is vital that the sector continues to respond to evolving market demands, with both processors and farmers facing challenges on many fronts, not least those concerning profitability and sustainability. In this regard there is a significant variation in output, with decoupled farm payments comprising over 50% of gross farm output, and in returns per hectare. Further challenges include the threat of increased competition, maintaining Irish beef as a premium priced product, in the context of reduced levels of support, and increasingly binding environmental constraints.
The short- to medium-term goal of the Irish beef industry, as set out in the Agri Vision 2015 Action Plan, is to ensure that the market penetration of Irish beef in the EU is consolidated and developed.
better scientifically based animal breeding;
increased production and utilisation of grass;
maintenance/enhancement of the health status of national cattle herds;
efficient farm production with quality assurance;
sophisticated and targeted marketing; and
advanced processing methods and product development.
In the Agri Vision 2015 Action Plan, the Department committed itself to continuing to promote best practice in food safety and quality, recognising their importance to consumers and the competitive advantage that such practices offer, particularly in the context of competing with low-cost imports. This approach, advocated by Bord Bia, will be even more important in the future, due to increased globalisation and any future World Trade Agreement.
At national level, a number of policy initiatives, in support of the sector, were enhanced and developed in line with the Agri Vision 2015 Action Plan. These include Bord Bia Irish Beef Promotion Strategies, the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme, a Capital Investment Scheme for the processing sector and Breed Improvement Programmes.
This section examines the relevant external and internal factors affecting the sector. The external factors are examined by way of a PESTEL analysis.
WTO - While the benefits of a multilateral trading system and the lift that could be given to the world economy from a successful World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round deal are recognised, any such deal must be balanced and take account of the Ireland’s interests, especially in agriculture. The Department continues to express strong reservations about the current WTO agriculture proposals and, in particular, the potential impact of these proposals on the Irish beef sector.
Indeed, the FAPRI-Ireland 2008 analysis3 has estimated that a WTO agreement could have severe consequences for the Irish beef sector. Even with beef designated as a sensitive product, it has estimated that there would be a 9% decline in Irish cattle prices, with the value of Irish beef output falling by €120m, or 8%, per year. Furthermore, a 23% reduction in tariffs, under sensitive product designation, would see imports of beef into the EU increasing by 30%.
In the alternative scenario where beef is not designated as sensitive, the magnitude of the negative impact on Irish agriculture is estimated to be much greater In such circumstances, the 70% cut in tariffs would result in Irish beef prices falling by over 28% by 2017, with an annual fall in beef output of €380m per annum.
Existing Supports – The EU’s support of the beef sector has undergone numerous changes over the decades, culminating in 2003 with the introduction of the decoupled Single Payment Scheme (SPS). The removal of the link between subsidies and production has resulted in more market and profitability focussed enterprises with a simultaneous decline in dairy cow numbers. This resulted in a fall in beef output and a widening of the EU beef deficit. In addition, the EU is committed to abolishing export refunds by 2013.
General Economic Climate – Recent years have seen significant fluctuations in commodity prices particularly dairy, beef and some cereals. While the world economy is undergoing a period of turmoil, due to a combination of adverse factors, the medium-term prospects for agricultural commodities on world markets are, nonetheless, promising. Rising population levels, improved standards of living and changing dietary patterns, particularly in Asia, are all contributing to increased food demand.
Threat from lower cost producers outside the EU – Given the scale of operation and low production costs, South American beef production poses a very real threat to Irish producers, if allowed unrestricted access to EU markets. Recent developments (production cutbacks, export restrictions etc.) combined with future income growth, particularly in Brazil, are likely to diminish that threat somewhat.
Brazilian Beef – Following the European Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) mission to Brazil in November 2007, the Commission recognised the deficiencies in Brazil’s production and traceability control systems and announced the introduction of extremely restrictive control measures, which came into effect from 31 January 2008. Brazil is under continued monitoring by the FVO and its latest report (mission in February/March 2009 – published 24 July)1 indicates that the operation of the required traceability systems on approved farms is not uniform and in some cases dysfunctional. The report does not recommend any change to the import conditions from that country but calls for further training, audits and the delisting of holdings not complying with traceability requirements. Restrictions on Brazilian beef imports have resulted in a significant drop in the volume of imported beef on the market. While compliance with EU controls may improve over time, there are doubts whether Brazil will ever fully recover its former share of EU markets.
Producer Profitability – Teagasc estimates that only one fifth of the country’s beef farms are economically viable, when the value of family labour and capital invested in livestock and machinery is considered. They highlighted the fact that beef farmers’ reliance on decoupled payments and other subsidies, such as REPS, remains high with many operating at a market loss. In fact, only one-third of the gross output generated by beef farms in 2006 was at a market profit.
Furthermore, without technical innovation, the outlook for beef profitability at the farm-level remains poor. It is projected that, even under the baseline or no policy change scenario, the percentage of viable farms would decrease from 21%, at present, to 10% by 2018, and the proportion of gross output produced at a market profit would decrease from 32% to 20%.
Beef farming is inherently a low margin business. Despite decoupling, output has remained relatively stable due to a number of factors including: a high number of part-time farmers, speculation effect, age profile, informational lag, lack of alternatives, lifestyle choices and compliance costs.2
Processing Sector – The Irish beef processing sector comprises 30 major slaughtering facilities, which are supervised by DAFF, and 220 low-volume slaughterhouses supervised by the Local Authority Veterinary Service. These plants handle a combined throughput of approximately 1.6 million cattle per annum. In addition, there is a significant number of standalone (i.e. no slaughtering) beef boning and beef added value processing businesses. While annual throughput is 1.6 million cattle, implying a weekly average of 31,000, in actual fact there is some seasonality influence in livestock production which means that weekly cattle availability ranges from 25,000 to 38,000 head. It is estimated that national capacity utilisation is about 60% and drops to below 50% during periods of short supply. A particularly important characteristic in Ireland is that virtually no factory operates on a full 5-day week, with most operating between 3 and 4 days for every week of the year. The beef industry has a capacity to slaughter 3 to 3.5 million animals annually, while slaughterings range from only 1.5 to 2 million. The impact of this extra capacity is estimated to increase costs by between 12 and 15%. In order to assist the structural changes necessary in primary processing and to support the expansion of added value processing, the Government announced, at the end of May this year, a grant assistance package of over €69 million under the the Department’s Beef and Sheepmeat Capital Investment Fund. The grant aid is expected to contribute to project investments in the region of €168 million to support sales, exports and employment. While the Fund will lead to a reduction in slaughtering facilities, from 34 (in 2007) to 26 upon completion, it is considered that capacity will need to be reduced further if the sector is to be competitive over the longer term.
Demographics – According to data from the CSO Farm Structures Survey, specialist beef production is the dominant type of farming, accounting for 68,300 farms in 2007. When compared with previous survey results from the Farm Structures Survey, this figure has changed only slightly since 1991 despite the decline in overall farm numbers, arguably masking a shift to part-time beef farming from other production systems. Again, according to this survey, 60% of the specialist beef production farms in 2007 were in the Border, Midland and Western Region. The average farm size of these beef farms is 27.5 hectares, which is lower than the 32.3 hectare average for all farms. In addition, the scattered nature of most holdings contributes to extra costs and poorer utilisation of modern management practices with little consolidation of holdings having taken place in recent years.
The age profile of specialist beef producers is higher than the average, only 6% are under 35 years of age compared with 6.9% of farmers in general while 28% are 65 years of age or over, compared to 24.8 % of farmers in general.
Changing Enterprises – A freeing-up of the dairy quota regime could entice some younger beef producers, on good land, to opt for dairy production. However, this is unlikely to any great extent in a quota environment, while access to capital is likely to prove problematic in a post-quota environment. Afforestation, on the other hand, could be a viable alternative on more marginal land.
Requirement for Young Beef Farmers – The farming lifestyle, with demanding hours and low margins, has resulted in full-time beef farming being unattractive to many younger people. If the industry is to remain viable, it needs to attract young, trained farmers who will drive change and technological development. However, the price and availability of land, to purchase or rent, and the current age profile amongst farmers are both threats to future viability.
Technological Improvements – The significant differences in beef enterprise gross margins between the upper and lower quartiles, as evidenced in the National Farm Survey (NFS), highlight the productivity issues that face the sector. There are also significant differences between what is being achieved on most farms and the optimum beef farm blueprints being achieved at Teagasc’s Grange Research Centre. There is a need to foster knowledge transfer and ensure earlier and widespread adoption by farmers of proven technologies developed by Teagasc. Potential technological advances in areas such as grassland breeding, management and utilisation, animal breeding, animal health and feeding and cost control underscore the requirement for ongoing research and development, in order to identify new and better animal production practices. This will require the co-operation of all stakeholders from primary producers to retailers and consumers.
Beef Carcase Classification – There are currently discussions taking place in the industry on the introduction of a new pricing grid to reward farmers for producing quality beef that the market wants. This grid will be based on the existing EUROP scale for conformation and fat scale of 1 to 5 for fat with the further use of sub-classes within each main class. In effect, this would result in a fifteen point grid for both conformation and fat, which in turn will give a more precise indication of the value of a carcase than the current system which uses only main classes. The use of sub-classes will be facilitated by the mechanical grading technology introduced in 2004. Processors maintain it will lead to a €200 difference between stock bred from the dairy and suckler herds with quality leaner carcases rewarded more than under the current system.
General industry acceptance is required to develop suitable price differentials between points on the scale in order to reward farmers for producing superior meat yield classes. While an effort was made to introduce a similar system in 2004, conditions may be more favourable with mechanical grading now broadly accepted.
Climate Change – Ireland has supported the goals agreed by the Heads of State and Government at the 2007 Spring European Council and the EU package on Climate Change and Energy Security agreed in December 2008. Ireland is one of three countries facing the highest level of target, a reduction of 20% under the effort-sharing element of this package. It has also been agreed that the EU target will increase to a reduction of 30% in the event of an international agreement on Climate Change and Energy Security being reached in Copenhagen in December 2009.
These targets present particular difficulties for the Irish agricultural sector as, uniquely among EU countries, emissions from the sector account for a very high proportion of total emissions (26.8% of total Irish emissions in 2007 against an EU27 average of 9%).3 An internal analysis suggests that because of the already efficient nature of Ireland’s agricultural systems, the scope for large-scale, cost-efficient emission reductions is limited to at most 4%. However, by 2007 agricultural emissions had decreased by 1.3m tonnes CO2 since 1990, or 6.5% and are projected to fall by 2.1m tonnes CO2, or 10.55% on 1990 by 2020.4
While research5 in this area is ongoing, it is clear that the achievement of Ireland’s target presents a formidable challenge.
Beef Labelling – The Beef Labelling Regulations apply to fresh, frozen and minced beef, with the information relating to the produce, applied to or attached to individual pieces of meat or to their packaging material. Where beef is not wrapped, the information is required to be provided in a written and visible form to the consumer at point of sale.
This was an important development for consumers and provides assurance about the origin and the quality as well as the safety of the product.
The internal analysis sets out the strengths and weaknesses of the Irish beef sector in order to gain a better understanding of its current position prior to setting out a sectoral action plan.
Beef Sector Strengths
Beef production is a major contributor to export earnings and accounts for approximately one third of gross agricultural output.
Ireland is part of a large and potentially high-value EU market that returns a high price for beef and is, consequently, in a strong position to avail of the growing EU beef deficit.
At present there is in excess of 1 million suckler cows which are a major strength of the industry, producing beef of an excellent quality that is in demand across Europe in either carcase form or as live exports.
As a result of the efforts of processors and Bord Bia, Irish beef has increased penetration in the main EU markets. The focus of current marketing is on repositioning and differentiating Irish product in order to improve market returns and increase market share.
Ireland produces a unique grass-fed (steer) product for the European market, which contrasts with the indigenous intensively fed young bull (or cull cow) in mainland Europe and this natural grass-based image is a selling point to retailers and consumers.
A predominantly grass-based system affords the Irish producer the opportunity of a lower cost system compared with many European counterparts.
Participation in REPS, together with the increasing emphasis on animal welfare and environmentally sustainable production practices, has meant that most beef producers are farming to the highest environmental standards, thus meeting a broader consumer acceptance of production standards.
Teagasc provides farmers with comprehensive and relevant research, advice and education information.
Beef Sector Weaknesses
Ireland is a major exporter of beef and being 680% self-sufficient6 makes the sector susceptible to fluctuations and trends in international and EU markets. Given the sector’s reliance on exports, the diminished availability and increased cost of credit insurance is curbing trade. Furthermore, the introduction by several Member States of various supports for credit insurance has left Irish exporters at a significant disadvantage.
In recent years, Ireland has exported up to 50% of beef to a single (UK) market.
There is a perception that there is poor communication within the entire value chain culminating in relatively poor market signals to producers. Clearer communication channels are necessary along the entire chain improving vertical integration and underpinning marketing efforts.
Suckler farmers producing well-muscled animals giving high meat yields are not sufficiently rewarded on the domestic market for the quality of their animals. There is, rather, a cross subsidisation of beef from the dairy herd by the better quality suckler animals.
Beef farmers in the main are price takers as they are dealing with a commodity product and the buying power of many of the multiples is so great that they can dictate price. These retailers regularly use beef and other meats as a loss leader in the battle to increase their market share and only want to deal with processors that can deliver a high quality product throughout the year. Despite significant improvements over the last 20 years, the continuing seasonality of production in Ireland limits processors’ ability to give such a guarantee.
Given the current production and farming profitability environment, there is a very real danger that seasonality will again return and become a serious limiting factor unless winter finishers are sufficiently rewarded for feeding through the high cost winter period.
Farmers typically market their stock individually so they have very little bargaining power with processors.
Nationally, the number (over 65,000 herds) and size (average herd is 18 cows) of farms is a weakness as they offer few economies of scale.
There is an apparent reluctance among producers to face up to financial realities and to examine production costs. Data from Teagasc identifies that there was no improvement in liveweight production per hectare from 2003 to 2008 while spending on feedstuffs increased by 9% (in nominal terms) over the same period.7
Overcapacity in the processing sector is undermining competitiveness and profitability. In addition, high labour and energy costs are impacting on the competitiveness of the sector resulting in production costs that are up to 50% greater in Ireland than in the UK – the industry’s main export market.
Inefficient use, and exploitation, of productive outlets for animal by-products is imposing a cost on the sector.
Future Market Prospects
The OECD-FAO Medium Term Agricultural Outlook 2009-2018 analyses the impact of the current economic contraction on agricultural markets.8 While recognising that the demand for food is relatively income-inelastic, it is estimated that the continued weakness in the world economy will dampen commodity prices over 2 to 3 years and that prices should then strengthen with economic recovery. However, meat prices, in real terms, are not expected to surpass average prices over the period 1997 to 2006. In the short term, a reduction in consumer incomes, arising from the current economic downturn, is encouraging lower consumption and substitution to cheaper meats, favouring poultry over beef. In the event of a deeper and more prolonged recession, demand for higher-cost livestock products (such as beef, pork, and dairy) would be seriously affected, impacting on both prices and production patterns.
The EU Commission has estimated that EU beef and veal production is expected to decline by almost 5% by 2015.9 This will lead to a supply gap within the EU of 600,000 tonnes by 2015, providing market opportunities for efficient market producers.
Other factors, which will impact on markets and opportunities in the beef sector, include the outcome of the negotiations on the CAP Post 2013 and the currently stalled WTO Doha Round. As regards the WTO, FAPRI–Ireland has estimated that in a scenario in which beef is not designated as a sensitive product, the resultant impact on Irish prices and production would lead to a decline of over 25% in the value of output when compared to a 2007 baseline. In the event of sensitive product status being achieved, the fall in output by 2017 would be of the order of 8%, when compared to the baseline.
As with other sectors of the economy, general macro-economic factors are important influences on the future development of the Irish beef industry. Notwithstanding this, the following sector specific actions would enable the sector to respond to the challenges of an evolving market place.
The ability to grow a plentiful supply of grass and convert this into animal product is Ireland’s single greatest natural advantage. Improving the efficient use of grazed grass is a key priority for the beef sector.
Maximising genetic gain is essential for profitable beef production. The production of high-quality beef from better-bred animals with superior genetics can lead to cumulative and permanent gains in on-farm profitability. All stakeholders should intensify their efforts to deliver a significant increase in the rate of genetic improvement of beef cattle. This can be achieved through a combination of an improved rate of recording breeding and health data, greater use of artificial insemination, and higher uptake of genetic evaluation and information services to all sectors of the industry. ICBF and Teagasc have a particular role to play in the achievement of this objective.
Increased efforts are required at farm level to improve the levels of beef farming efficiency. This is evident from the Teagasc National Farm Survey, which showed that there were significant differences in gross margins between producers, and between producers and the economic performance achieved under the Grange suckler blueprint system4. This highlights the necessity for a renewed focus from Teagasc to translate best practise in areas such as grassland management to farmers through the new BETTER Farm Programme.
The Beef Quality Assurance Scheme introduced in 2005 by Bord Bia has played a pivotal role in positioning Irish beef on the market. Increased producer participation in this scheme is important to achieve critical mass, and is a key element in underpinning Bord Bia’s marketing strategy in differentiating and positioning Irish product.
Suckler farmers producing well-muscled animals giving high meat yields are not sufficiently rewarded on the domestic market for the quality of their animals. There is a cross subsidisation of beef to the dairy herd from the better quality suckler animals. The price differential between beef from the suckler and dairy herds is regarded as being too small. General industry agreement is required on a pricing mechanism that better rewards quality beef production which meets the market’s preferences. This mechanism should allow for suitable price differentials between points on the beef carcase classification scale in order to reward farmers for producing quality leaner carcases and superior meat yield classes.
A competitive and efficient processing sector is central to maintaining a viable beef industry at both producer and processing levels. The recently announced Beef and Sheepmeat Capital Investment Scheme is a significant stimulus to the ongoing strategic and developmental restructuring of the processing sector. The sector must, however, continue to adapt to evolving market challenges and changing consumer demands. This involves working with suppliers and producers to ensure a constant a supply of animals that meet market requirements. Actions that would contribute to this include: good supply/contract relationships and agreement on the introduction of a defined quality specification grid that would reward producers for quality carcases in line with market demand.
Given Ireland’s dependence on exports, the maintenance or enhancement of the national cattle herd is of paramount importance.
The beef sector (combined with sheep) comprises some 31 major processing plants with 10,000 people employed in directly processing output. The sector has an annual turnover of approximately €2 billion, while in excess of 100,000 Irish farms have a beef enterprise. Today more than 90% of output is fresh beef supplied to retail, food services and manufacturing clients in Ireland and across the EU. This transformation has involved significant investment in production, quality and market development.
While the Irish beef sector has demonstrated considerable resilience and an ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment in recent years, significant challenges face both producers and processors in the years ahead if the industry is to continue to successfully grow and develop.
The outcome of negotiations on climate change, CAP Post 2013 and the WTO Doha Round are important variables in determining future production possibilities for the beef sector. Furthermore increased input costs, both in terms of feed and fertiliser, and in areas such as compliance with legislation on environmental protection and animal welfare, continue to pose significant profitability challenges for producers. Accordingly, the current challenge is for producers to ensure that market returns are sufficient to generate an appropriate income on the assets owned. For beef processors on the other hand, a rationalised and competitive industry is fundamental to underpinning a competitive sector. In this regard, both producers and processors must strive to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage, and in doing so ensure that all aspects of the value chain are examined in detail with appropriate actions taken to address the significant challenges that lie ahead.
Gross output of pig production is valued at €300m annually at farmgate level. About 7,500 people are employed in the industry when production, slaughter and further processing and ancillary activities are taken into account. Just over half of output is exported - pork and bacon exports are worth in the region of €360m annually. Up to a third of pigmeat consumed here is imported.
The sow herd has declined slightly over recent years and currently stands at around 150,000. This indicates a decline of only 2.8% in the past two years which is modest considering the virtual wipe-out of incomes that resulted from high feed costs in the 2007 to 2008 period. The trend is towards fewer but bigger production sites - the average size of commercial sow units is now 496 sows - up from 420 in 2007- as a corrollory the number of commercial pig farms has fallen to just 440.
The Irish pig sector has certain advantages in its favour such as high productivity, a predominance of large, specialised production units, good health status, good level of participation in the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme and proximity to the large British market. The international outlook for pork consumption is positive with a steady increase envisaged over the next decade.
The main challenges facing the Irish pig sector are maintaining competitiveness on both home and export markets, achieving reasonable levels of profitability and meeting regulatory standards in the areas of environment protection, welfare and health. Low return on investment, lack of investment, demographic profile and shortage and cost of suitable labour are all posing difficulties for the industry.
The small absolute size of the pig sector (1% of EU output) and the slow slide in output are a cause for concern. A critical mass of output needs to be maintained to underpin the viability of processing operations and to ensure ongoing investment by food processors.
Teagasc has produced a report setting out a Development Strategy for the Irish pig industry to assist it over the next several years, which was drawn up following consultations with a broad range of stakeholders. This report contains a comprehensive summary of the issues facing the Irish pig sector and proposes measures that need to be taken to position the industry for a successful future. The Strategy’s vision for the industry in a decade from now is for one that produces meat to the highest standards of quality and safety, that would be internationally competitive, that would expand output through better sow productivity and bigger carcases and have due regard for animal health and welfare and environment protection considerations. A Steering Group has been established to progress the various recommendations of the Development Strategy and it has already met on a couple of occasions.
Following a sharp increase in the national flock between 1987 and 1997, due primarily to the strong uptake of Ewe Premium payment, the sheep sector is in difficulties with falling production levels. This trend is also evident throughout Europe.
The number of sheep slaughtered in 2008 was down 12% compared to 2007 and Bord Bia estimates it will be down by a further 6 – 8% in 2009. Currently sheep slaughterings are down 7% on this time last year. While factory prices for lamb were up an average of 4% in 2008 compared to the previous year, Irish lamb continues to face tough competition from the important French market.
Consumption of sheep meat in the EU has dropped significantly in recent times. Consumption at home is 15% down on this time last year. French consumption is down by 8-9% and UK consumption has dropped by 10%. The French market accounts for more than 50% of Irish sheep meat exports and we are facing increasing competition on this market from chilled New Zealand lamb and cheaper UK product. Last year, Irish sheepmeat exports fell by 10% in value, to an estimated €166 million.
The national sheep flock has declined steadily over the past decade, from a total of 8.312 million in 1998 to less than 5.1 million in 2008. The decline has been more pronounced since decoupling and the introduction of the Single Farm Payment. The number of ewes has fallen from over 4.4 million in 1998 to 2.614 million in June 2008.
The difficulties facing the sheep sector have been apparent for some time and prompted the setting up of the Sheep Strategy Development Group, to draw up a blueprint for the future development of the sector. The Strategy Group’s report was issued in June 2006 and contained a number of recommendations for action to secure the future of the sector. Considerable progress has been in implementing the recommendations made in areas such as breed improvement, research and marketing.
Allied to support for breeding and research, there is a two-fold strategy to assist the sector. The first part of that strategy aims to maintain the current level of production. The second targets increased market share both at home and abroad. This includes a generic promotion campaign by Bord Bia with its UK and French counterparts on the important French market.
The sheep industry receives a substantial amount of EU and Exchequer support under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme, Single Farm Payment, REPS and marketing and processing grants.
This year, €7 million from the Single Farm Payment National Reserve, has been allocated to an estimated 14,000 hill sheep farmers, in the form of an Uplands Sheep Payment. It was recently announced that €18 million of the €25 million available in unused CAP funds from 2010 onwards, is to be allocated to the sheep sector. In addition, it is proposed to spend €8 million from 2010 on a scheme for sheep fencing and mobile handling equipment.
There is a need for action at all levels of the chain. At production level, the initiatives being taken in the areas of breed improvement and research should enhance quality and productivity. The grants made available at processing level should assist efficiency at this stage. At marketing level, the sector has an image issue. Lamb is seen as a luxury meet and is not popular amongst younger people. There will be a need to focus market efforts on boosting consumption, through by example, the generic promotion campaign currently being undertaken on the French market.
The Irish poultry industry consists of the rearing of birds for meat, the keeping of table-egg laying flocks, a network of breeding flocks and hatcheries to support these activities, the packing of eggs and the poultry slaughter and processing sector. Around 850 farms are involved in commercial poultry production. The farmgate value of the poultry industry, at €150m (approx €120m meat and €30m eggs), is 3% of gross agricultural output. Notwithstanding the competitive pressures on the sector, the poultry industry has largely maintained output levels. The number of people employed in primary production and processing and in linked services would be of the order of 6000. There has been some consolidation of processing facilities in recent years.
Approx. 800 farms are involved in commercial poultry production as follows: 230 in table eggs production, 400 rearing poultry for meat and 170 breeding farms and hatcheries. There are 10 poultry slaughter plants handling 73m birds annually (117,000t meat). The predominant outlet for Irish chicken is the Irish retail market for fresh raw product. The industry is not export driven although hen meat and chicken cuts for which there is a poor market here (wings, legs) are exported.
Poultrymeat accounts for 32% of meat consumed in Ireland. Demand here and elsewhere in the EU is expected to grow steadily not least because of the competitiveness of poultry compared to other meats. Consumers prefer local product and Irish producers have an advantage in terms of the freshness of product that can be delivered to the market here. The Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme is very well developed on the poultry side, with a high uptake, and has widespread recognition as underpinning quality and safety.
Well over half the poultry consumed here is imported. Irish poultrymeat has serious difficulty competing on price with imported product. The ready availability of large volumes of relatively cheap imported poultry, and the likely further liberalisation of imports from non-EU countries, mean that the industry will remain under significant competitive pressure. The industry is faced with ever-higher costs which usually cannot be recouped from the marketplace so the modest margins achievable in the sector are constantly being eroded. The absence of compulsory origin labelling means that Irish producers have difficulty in differentiating their product and thereby capitalising on the preference of many consumers for Irish product.
The Poultry Export Group was established in 2006 and reported in November 2007 – the group was reconvened this year to review its recommendations and this exercise continues. The report covers a range of issues such as labelling, promotion and legislation on environmental protection, welfare and feedingstuffs. Those issues continue to be pursued. On welfare, for instance, support will be provided under the Rural Development Programme to meet the terms of the Laying Hens Directive. On labelling, Ireland has failed to get EU approval for national legislation stipulating compulsory origin labelling but is now seeking this in the context of proposed new EU Food Information legislation.