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06 Jul, 2020

The Future of Irish Beef Farming

In the recent Agri Outlook, ifac CEO, John Donoghue, speaks of how COVID-19 has challenged many companies to be more innovative and shares his three critical questions that must be answered when planning.

COVID-19 has challenged many businesses to be more innovative. The Irish beef sector is dealing with major challenges, including Brexit which continues to loom large on the horizon. It is time to innovate, and build a new plan for the beef sector.

In planning for any business, be it a farm, agri-food enterprise, or even a professional services firm like ifac, three critical questions must be answered; Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there?

Where are we now in the beef sector? For the most part, Irish beef farmers are in the commodity business, selling their product to processors, who package and sell on to wholesale, food service, or retail markets.

Sector participants and organizations are working hard to help drive efficient production and create added value. Large volumes of beef are being sold into foreign markets, and efforts continue to brand Irish beef as a premium product. While we shouldn’t underestimate the task of selling this product or accessing those markets, we need to understand it’s been a case of finding markets for products we produce, as opposed to producing products to meet market needs/desires.

Where are we going? The beef sector is heavily exposed and disjointed. No beef farmer would argue this point, and while we know Irish beef farmers produce an excellent product, we also know this product does not command a market premium of any significant benefit to the farmer. Every business needs a profit incentive, effectively a reason to be in business, a way to add value and take advantage of a market opportunity.

So what is the future of Irish beef farming? What will it look like twenty years from now? Do we have a national agriculture plan of real substance that stands a chance of being successful? Do we know where we want the Irish beef sector to go?

How will we get there? If we don’t know where we are going, there is a strong chance we won’t arrive at any worthwhile destination. The beef sector remains at the crossroads with no real plan in sight.

We know two things to be true; (1) A commodity product will not command a consistent premium, and (2) Innovative well-branded products that fulfill market needs/desires will command consistent premiums.

COVID-19 has been a tremendous and damaging shock, it has devastated families, and changed lives. It is also changing priorities. Health and global food security are back on the agenda. We produce the best food on the planet and it’s time for us to capitalize on quality. Are we brave enough as a sector to set aside differences, brave enough to work together, brave enough to plan for a future that sustains beef farming and puts the farmer first?

When COVID-19 is in retreat, we must look to our national priorities. The future of the beef sector is a national priority. It’s time to build a new plan, one that will give Irish beef farmers a sustainable long-term future.

To view our full Agri Outlook click here