IRELAND - The Republic of Ireland is the first European country to regain access into the US beef market, but the jury is still out as to the impact this could have on the sector’s future.
Irish agriculture has welcomed Monday's announcement as positive news following a torrid year of low prices resulting in farmers saying they would be better off on state benefits than fattening cattle.
Premium markets, strong US cattle values, interest in grass-fed beef, as well as the strong Irish links to the US have been trumpeted as reasons why shipments of Irish beef to the US could be successful.
However, an end to what the EU commission has termed a “disproportionate and unjustified” ban, dating back to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis and January 1998, needs to yield a beef price upturn to be viewed a success.
Irish Farmers' Association President Eddie Downey said: “This is a positive development and its significance will be judged by farmers securing improved beef prices from the market place in 2015″.
He added that Irish prices have been looking “much more promising for beef farmers” at a base of €4 and €4.05-€4.10/kilo for steers and heifers respectively. Plants are having procurement difficulties, with tight supplies resulting in cattle at €4.40/kilo.
Officially lifted in March 2014 to the EU, other member states have requested US access, a “huge prize”, according to Irish farm minister Simon Coveney.
“We now have first-mover advantage as a result of being the first EU member state to gain entry,” said Minister Coveney.
“There is also the large Irish-American community which will be a key target of our promotional efforts for Irish beef now.”
Ireland’s strong ties with the US were eluded to by Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association beef chairman Edmund Phelan as a tool for Irish marketing.
Speaking to the BBC’s Farming Today programme, he said some 40 million US citizens claim Irish descendancy, adding that the relative proximity to Ireland would also help.
Commenting on efforts to raise the profile of Irish red meat in the Far East, he stressed Irish farmers had seen a lot of “false dawns”, where markets had been opened up with no subsequent price upturn.
Addressing the marketing issue, Minister Coveney said a dedicated website for promoting Irish beef is planned as one of several initiatives to highlight Ireland’s product in the US.