For those of us at a certain age it is traditional this time of year to bemoan where the year went and adopt the view surely it can’t be Christmas already!
However the calendar never lies and it is upon us again and time to review what has happened since last year.
In our industry it is always a positive when we get through a year without some crisis, and after the horsemeat issue of 2013, this year passed off in an uneventful manner. It was the turn this year of the poultry sector to have a scare with bird flu but thankfully this was contained quickly and disruption kept to a minimum.
On the big stage in agriculture, CAP reform implementation was the big ticket issue which proved problematical and created lots of controversy and conflict between the winners and losers. Beef was never going to be a winner; it was always a case of how much it would loose and how quickly whereas upland sheep producers with lots of acres will be more positive about the change. For a long time it looked like we may have no local solution with the issue getting wrapped up in the wider politics of Stormont, but late in the day DARD took a position. The combination of battle fatigue and fear of no DARD position leading to default and an immediate flat rate meant that the new implementation arrangement was relatively well accepted across sectors.
In the beef industry we had the specification issue where producer representatives and processors had in true Northern Ireland tradition full belief in their position. Over a period of time and assisted by the patient brokering of LMC, an understanding evolved whereby it was recognised that to get the best price from the market it was necessary to give the best and highest paying customers what they wanted. Similarly the processing sector were made very aware that cattle production isn’t a light switch or water tap that can be switched on and off, time and communication are necessary when it comes to modifying what has become established practice. It didn’t help that this period coincided with exceptionally weak market conditions after the surge in 2013 prices. Nobody wanted to listen to stories about cold stores being full of unsold beef that was in negative equity territory.
We had a fabulous year weather wise which assisted production and cattle and lambs finished better and faster than usual. Even price at the year-end is notable with R3 steer prices only beaten by Scotland in the UK. That deserves an article in itself. No doubt lower oil prices help not only farmers but factories given our dependence on road and sea transport to access our main markets and it also helps offset our dearest industrial electricity costs in Europe. There is always a fear in a rising market that it won’t last and people buying stores to finish will be caught out when their time comes to sell. That is always a risk but for now we can enjoy the moment and hope that our industry can find and develop markets in 2015 to sustain and ideally increase farm gate prices further. That is this column’s request to Santa!
(Views in this article are those of the author only and do not represent any organisation or association)