Clare beef farmers fighting for survival

Cattle grazing in Fanore (Natasha Barton)

Rural Clare will become an abandoned “wasteland” if the county’s 4,200 beef farmers are allowed to go out of business.

That is according to Hugh Doyle, the co-founder of new farming organisation Beef Plan, who are considering running election candidates in Clare in the upcoming local and general elections.

Beef Plan is now the fastest growing political organisation in Ireland, and has gained 800 registered members in Clare over the past four weeks.

“If beef farming is allowed to die, rural Clare will be a wasteland. The shops won’t be able to survive, the lorry drivers, the pubs,” Mr Doyle told The Clare People yesterday.

“This needs to be made a voting issue. I don’t understand why the Government doesn’t take action.”

West Clare farmer and chair of Beef Plan in Clare, Joseph Woulfe, says that the identity of rural Clare is on the brink of destruction.

The only way can do this is to make it political. I’ve talked to other farming organisations, I’ve talked to Farmers’ Rights, I’ve talked to the Hill Farmers and I’ve talked to the ICSA, they are 100 per cent behind our plan

“There are people in Clare who face losing their farm and losing their history. Your farm is where you were born and grew up. I was born here and we have lived here for 350 years. It’s a big thing to be faced with, losing your [family] history and recognition. You’re losing who you are as a person,” he said.

“Twenty years from now, it could all be gone. I live between Spanish Point and Quilty. What we have around us is holiday homes and no people. Do we want more of that? Sometimes you don’t see things like this happening right there on the day. You look back after 10 years and you think, ‘Oh God’. When it’s too late.”

According to Mr Doyle, Beef Plan may seek to run candidates in the upcoming local and European elections, with Clare, Sligo, Roscommon and Galway the most likely counties for candidates to be put forward.

“The only way can do this is to make it political. I’ve talked to other farming organisations, I’ve talked to Farmers’ Rights, I’ve talked to the Hill Farmers and I’ve talked to the ICSA, they are 100 per cent behind our plan,” he said.

“We need the Government to do something. We have spoken to representatives from the shipping companies and from the private marts, they support what we are doing. Between all of us we probably have more than 80,000 members and if you add their spouses and their families that comes to close to 250,000 people.

“There are local elections coming up and European elections and we will most definitely be taking action. We are not ruling anything in our out at the moment. We are strongest in the West, in Clare, Sligo, Roscommon and Galway.

“We have a really strong membership in each of these counties. When we have meetings, you see farmers coming in and their heads are down but, by the end of the meeting, their heads have lifted a little. They realise that there is somebody out there who actually cares. A lot of them had given up, so this is about trying to motivate them, to show them there is a chance that they will survive.”

According to Joseph Woulfe, support for Beef Plan is growing massively in Clare, with dozens of new members joining every week. The organisation has spread throughout Ireland, using social media such as WhatsApp, but the organisation in Clare, where most farmers are in their 60s or older, is different.

“We are getting a lot of new members but we are also working with older Clare farmers, people who don’t have smartphones, or WhatsApp. We are going door to door, meeting those people,” he said.

“Farmers have been contacting us, looking for piles of registration forms to be send to different parts of the county.”

Cattle grazing in Fanore (Natasha Barton)

Beef Plan has set up an 86-point plan for saving Irish farming but the single most important factor is reorganising the beef supply chain. 

“Rural Ireland has been forgotten. We can talk nicely about the politicians up in Dublin but in my opinion and in the opinion of Beef Plan, rural Ireland has been given the crumbs and beef farmers are a massive part of that,” said Mr Doyle.

“The powers that be in the Department of Agriculture seem to be willing to sacrifice the beef industry. They seem to want to cut the oxygen from farms and let it die off by itself. They are encouraging people to get into dairy but there is marginal land in Clare that won’t support that.

“If the Government don’t take account of this, the beef industry will die. It is as simple as that.

“The biggest issue with the beef industry at the moment is the return to farmers. The percentage that the farmers have got over the past 20 years has got smaller and smaller and our inputs have got bigger and bigger.

“The retailers, who nobody seems to talk about, these multi-billion euro retailers, their margin on meat is about 50 per cent. They have the animal for two or three days; we have the animal for two or three years, and we are not getting anything near what the retailer is getting. That can’t continue.

“There is a perception amongst the non-farming community that farmers are always complaining, they are always looking for money, but the truth is that there are genuinely anti-competitive practices in the beef industry. This is preventing farmers from getting a fair price for their products. There is literally no competition in the market at the moment.

“There are anti-competitive elements that the Department of Agriculture are not addressing. We have put this in front of them and they aren’t doing anything. Everyone points the finger at everyone else.”

Beef Plan will host its second Clare meeting in The Falls Hotel in Ennistymon on February 20 from 7.30pm.

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