Turkey’s stockbreeders face uphill battle against imported meat, surging prices

As Turkey counts down to the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha on Sunday, some 3,000 animals arrived from Spain at the southern port of İskenderun.

Their arrival comes despite the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock’s recent announcement that it would not import any livestock for the holiday in an effort to support domestic stockbreeders. 

Turkish media also reported that the Red Crescent would import another 6,000 cattle from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Poland, citing cheaper costs. 

Such imports, along with the soaring prices of feed, hay, medicine and diesel, thanks to the decreased value of the Turkish lira, have created a crisis for Turkey’s stockbreeding sector. In the southern provinces of Adana and Hatay, stockbreeders said they were fighting an uphill battle due to missteps by the government, which they said had failed to protect their industry. 

Cevdet Güney, who has owned a leading agriculture and stockbreeding company in Hatay province for 15 years, said he was forced to sell meat that costs him 27 lira to produce for 26 lira because of imported meat. 

“How can I compete with a government that imports meat for 30 lira and sells it for 25 lira?’’ Güney asked. 

In the first quarter of 2019, red meat consumption in Turkey fell by 18.6 percent from the previous quarter and 16.5 percent compared to the same quarter last year, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute.

Meanwhile, the number of cattle in Turkey increased by nearly 7 percent in 2018, reaching 17.2 million, while the number of sheep and goats increased by more than 4 percent to reach 46.1 million. In 2017, the number of cattle increased more than 13 percent. 

The number of animals in the country is on the rise with each passing year, even as meat consumption is in decline. Stockbreeders point to animal imports as the main reason. 

Turkey has become increasingly dependant on meat imports due to the increase in wholesale and retail prices of beef and lamb.  In 2016, Turkey’s livestock imports increased some 177 percent. 

According to figures provided by Minister of Agriculture Eşref Fakıbaba, Turkey imported 41,000 tonnes of meat from July 2016 to July 2017 and is expected to import 66,000 tonnes more by the end of 2017. In January 2018, the ministry vowed that Turkey would stop importing meat, but recent reports have shown animals and meat have continued to arrive. 

Even with the arrival of Eid al Adha and their most lucrative period of the year, stockbreeders are unhappy. Last year a sacrificial ram went for 1,250 lira; this year it is 1,500. Cattle sold for 13,000 lira last year, but 15,000 this year. 

A price increase might sound good for animal sellers, but lira fluctuations against the U.S. dollar and the rise in costs pose a real problem. A bag of feed has increased to 85 lira from 50 lira while the cost of electricity and diesel fuel have doubled, stockbreeders said.

“Everything is expensive, from hay to diesel fuel,” said Nurettin Uğur, a stockbreeder in Çukurova for more than four decades. “These expenses are so great that there isn’t much left in the way of profits for producers.”

Many people in Çukurova, in south-central Turkey, make a living from farming and stockbreeding. Today many face financial troubles that threaten their business. 

Uğur said he was lucky if he could meet the needs of his animals each month. But he has found a solution in farming vegetables from time to time. 

“I couldn’t make a living from stock breeding alone,” he said. “I do this because I have to; I don’t know how to do anything else. I followed in my father’s footsteps.” 

Uğur explained that barley he bought for 1,200 lira in July is now 1,600 lira while the price of hay has gone up from 0.60 lira to 1 lira. 

Halil Kavukoğlu, a 71-year-old stockbreeder from Serinyol in Hatay province, said that without support from the government it would be impossible to make a living. 

Kavukoğlu said he paid 1,200 lira for electricity and 700 lira for water every month.

“I am currently providing for my animals through my own means. I have had to scale back on workers’ wages,” he said. “My children and wife are supporting me, too. I don’t know how much more I can scale back. Animals are like children. You can remain hungry, but they can’t.”