“With these incentives, Turkey could start exporting meat within a couple of years,” Bülent Tunç, president of the Union of Turkish Meat Producers, told Today's Zaman.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry has allocated TL 2.1 billion (approximately $1.6 billion) for animal husbandry in 2012, which amounts to 28 percent of the budget earmarked for agricultural subsidies. The subsidy was only TL 83 million in 2002, when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power.
Turkey has been importing cattle to meet the domestic demand for meat since 2009, after meat prices reached an all-time high in 2008. “Animal husbandry used to be treated like a stepchild. But the government is now providing substantial incentives for breeding beef cattle,” he said.
Ahmet Yücesan, president of the Union of Meat Producers (ETBİR), also believes the incentives announced by the ministry will do a lot of good for the sector. Speaking to Today's Zaman, he also noted that the sector has already started to see positive results from the incentives, which began to be offered seriously in 2009.
“There used to be only around 250 breeding farms in Turkey, whereas the figure has now doubled,” he added. Turkey imports around 20 percent of the meat it consumes, and Yücesan is of the opinion that Turkey could stop importing meat in a couple of years if the incentives continue.
Food, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Minister Mehdi Eker on Monday said he is pleased with the response of the industry to government incentives.
But that does not mean the industry has no grievances. For example, Tunç is very critical of the role of the Meat and Fish Authority (EBK). “The market is in trouble,” he lamented, stressing that people who earn their living raising livestock have difficulty selling their animals. The responsibility rests with the EBK, according to Tunç, because he said the EBK has been unsuccessful at selling the meat it has imported and, as a result, was forced to sell the meat in bulk at lower than cost price.
He also claimed that the EBK still has thousands of tons of meat in storage, yet continues to import meat because the purchase orders were filed earlier. “That makes it difficult for domestic cattle farmers to market their animals with a profit,” he noted.
The newly announced incentives don't seem to have satisfied the small family-run cattle breeders who work with the milk industry either. “The incentives are not that different from those of previous years, except for the school milk project, through which primary and secondary school student will be offered milk at school, beginning April 25,” Osman Vasfi Yasun, deputy president of the Union of Turkish Milk Producers, told Today's Zaman.
He thinks the animal husbandry incentive package is not as impressive as the incentive package for the manufacturing economy announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on April 5.
Yasun has emphasized that small family establishments cannot take advantage of most of the incentives offered by the ministry. “Establishments with up to four cows still make up around 70 percent of the whole industry. If they could have profited from the incentives, the figure would have been much smaller by now,” he stressed, noting that they lack the financial means to take advantage of the incentives, which are being offered with some strings attached.
Selling the milk is also a problem for the farmers from time to time. Yasun claimed that the dairy products industry has started to buy milk at TL 0.75, which would once again force farmers to send their animals to the butcher, as the price of milk is no longer profitable.
The cattle population in Turkey, according to the latest survey, is 11.2 million. Although the number of cattle has not increased much in recent years, productivity has risen around 50 percent as a result of selective breeding. The number of farms with more than 50 livestock has risen from 4,300 to 24,000 in the last decade.