The 48-hour nationwide protest by farmers at meat factories has ended with farmers vowing to return to the factory gates if the prices they receive for their animals do not increase.

Both sides in the dispute have said they will now participate fully in negotiations at the fourth beef forum, which will be hosted by the Minister for Agriculture tomorrow.

As the farmers wrapped up their protests at 3pm it became clear that very many of them were reluctant to leave.

Ciaran Fitzgerald of Meat Industry Ireland said the protest was damaging, costly, and has impacted on important customers. 

He said farmers are looking to be paid the UK price for an animal they do not produce, and that Irish factories do not sell.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said significant progress can be made at tomorrow's Beef Forum, but it cannot dictate the price for beef.

The minister was speaking as farmers ended their 48-hour protest over the price of beef.

Mr Coveney told RTÉ's News at One that the main problem is that farmers do not have the capacity to negotiate price when selling to factories.

He said the setting up of producer organisations will help negate that problem.

Mr Coveney said he expects that prices for beef will increase over the next number of weeks and months, but that ultimately the market will decide the price.

He said there had always been a difficult and "fractious" relationship between farmers and factories.

"I think we can make significant progress. We can't dictate what the price is going to be," the minister said.

"If we try to do that, the Competition Authority will intervene straight away.

"But there are a lot of other things ... if you look at trends at the moment, prices are increasing for beef at the moment, supply is contracting for beef at the moment, not only in Ireland, but across the European Union."

Irish Farmers' Association President Eddie Downey said thousands of farmers across the country had supported the protest.

He said the demonstration has sent a clear message to the industry that prices to farmers have to increase.

Meat Industry Ireland, which represents beef processing factories, has said the protest has been damaging to business, has imposed further costs on companies and has impacted on the supply of fresh beef to important customers. 

The protest took place outside 14 of the country's 29 meat factories.

The factories affected are ABP Food Group, Kepak, and Dawn Meats.

Joe Ryan of Meat Industry Ireland said negotiations need to be done around the table and not through blockades and media soundbites.