Hundreds of farmers gathered outside the Department of Agriculture earlier today to highlight their anger about cuts to beef prices paid to them in recent months.

The Irish Farmers' Association, which organised the protest, said about 3,000 people took part.

IFA President Eddie Downey said farmers must get prices restored and more live export markets opened for Irish cattle to secure the future of the beef industry.

He also said the Government's Harvest 2020 strategy for the beef sector is failing and said Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney must come up with a new plan to address the crisis.

Minister Coveney said the Government "clearly cannot set prices" in the beef sector.

He encouraged both farmers and beef processors to sit down to find solutions to beef prices and supply.

Meat Industry Ireland, which represents meat processors, said the beef sector is in a very strong position, but beef consumption in the EU market is down due to weaker consumer spending and weaker demand for beef.

A spokesperson said the processors are facing a difficult marketplace and are paying out prices for cattle that are not sustained by the returns they get.

He blamed the slump in prices to farmers on market driven issues.

Meat industry representatives and the farming organisations addressed the Oireachtas committee on agriculture this afternoon.