The President of the Irish Farmers' Association has accused Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed of "standing idly by" as beef farming "goes down the tubes".

Joe Healy was speaking at a protest that took place as the minister chaired a meeting of the Beef Forum at the Department of Agriculture on Kildare Street.

Addressing a large group of farmers protesting outside the department, Mr Healy said beef factories have robbed farmers by systematically cutting cattle prices.

He urged Minister Michael Creed to deliver additional support for beef farmers in the Budget next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Agriculture, who chaired the 12th meeting of the Beef Forum, which includes the meat factories, said that he urged the factories to engage positively with the farmers and ensure they receive a reasonable return for their animals.

Meat Industry Ireland, which represents the factories, said the IFA criticism does not fairly reflect the strong price paid for beef throughout the year.

They said that it was only in the past two weeks that beef prices have dropped below the corresponding period last year. 

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Meat Industry Ireland said that Irish cattle prices have been running at 7% above the EU average price so far this year.

They also said that there has been an increase of between 45,000 and 50,000 cattle processed so far this year as a result of the drought and that this extra supply has had a dampening effect on prices.

However, IFA Livestock Chairman, Angus Woods, said the factories have torn the hell out of beef prices and forced them down well below the cost of production.

He said farmers were furious with Minister Creed, claiming he appeared fixated on driving up beef exports, with the gains going to the factories on the back of loss-making prices to farmers.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Mr Healy called on factories to give an immediate price rise for beef.

He also called on Mr Creed to put in place a scheme in next week’s budget that supports suckler cows.

In a statement, the minister acknowledged the difficult year farmers have had in terms of weather and the challenges associated with it.

"We really need to reflect on the broad issues impacting on the sector and how best to respond," he said.

Mr Creed also urged processors to "engage positively with their farmer suppliers" to build sustainability of the beef sector.  

The National Farm Survey published by Teagasc showed that the average income on cattle rearing farms last year was as low as €12,529.

Elsewhere, the ICMSA, which represents dairy farmers, has published a detailed analysis of the beef pricing system operated by the factories since 2011.

That analysis suggests that the so-called QPS pricing system has resulted in a reduction of €121 million paid to farmers for their beef animals since 2011.