Ireland’s live export markets are key to competitive beef prices, according to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney TD in a broadcast on AgriLand.

“This year on average beef prices have been higher than they have ever been. This year beef prices have been higher than the European average and even after the recent price cut, they are still higher than the European average.

It is not my job to set prices. It is my job to ensure we have a functioning market,” the minister said. He stressed the live cattle export trade was key to price competitiveness.

“This year we have been very co-operative in ensuring we have a live cattle export trade, as farmers would say, ‘To keep factories honest’. In other words, if farmers were not happy with prices they were getting at the factory or mart, there was a market to export live animals, and the same goes for sheep. So we are are in the business to ensure farmers get the most they can from the marketplace in terms of beef.”

He also spoke on new sustainability schemes, quality assurance schemes and carbon footprint measures, that he said, is key to ensuring farmers across Ireland get the best price for their beef.

“What I can’t do is force factories to pay a certain price for beef. I do intervene to ensure we don’t have monopolies, that we have alternative outlets for our animals through live exports and to ensure we are producing high-quality beef and rewarding farmers for that high-quality beef.

“Of course I would like to see Irish beef prices continuing to go higher and higher each year, farmers to get as much from the market as they can. But the way to do that is improving the standards to keep the sustainability audits rolling out so Irish beef builds a reputation around the world as a premium product with a premium price.”

In addition, the minister noted the move of many suckler cow farmers towards dairy and hinted at the reintroduction of new supports and protections for the suckler cow sector in the upcoming Budget 2014.

“There isn’t evidence that there are huge numbers of suckler cow farmers transferring to dairy but there are some. Suckler beef farmers, particularly in the east and south-east of the country, are very excited about the opportunities offered through dairy expansion and through a removal of quotas and they are doing that. But I hope we will be able to put sufficient supports in place to ensure we maintain a very healthy suckler herd. Obviously that is going to impact on decisions that we make in the Budget and on future decisions in Common Agriculture Policy Reform.”

The full broadcast is available here on AgriLand TV.