Over the last number of weeks UFU representatives have met with local meat processors to discuss a number of issues currently relevant to the red meat sector.
Price volatility is top of the agenda with the fluctuations in prices over the last two years making it difficult for farmers to manage their businesses.
The UFU has argued that this cannot continue and that processors must introduce longer term payment structures for farmers keen to supply in-spec cattle and sheep.
The spot market has traditionally been the method of trade in Northern Ireland, however different payment structures are available in other parts of the world which can give farmers greater certainty about the price they will receive over a longer period of time as well as offer more stable returns which allow producers to budget over the course of the year.
The UFU is also conscious that there is a need to protect Northern Ireland’s livestock producers from imported products.
The UFU has been conducting discussions not only with local processors but also the other UK Farming Unions about the potential to introduce DNA technology into the beef industry.
DNA technology has become a popular option in North America with the cost reducing significantly in recent years. This technology has the potential to improve the traceability of beef, add value to the product and overall offer greater protection to the UK brand. The UFU is seeking a commitment from local processors to support discussions around this proposal and will be continuing to lead discussions on the matter with the other UK Unions.
Much of the volatility which has impacted upon livestock prices has been caused by the weak Euro and an over-reliance on the UK market. While this remains our best paying market, during times of surplus supply our next best market is currently Europe and the weak Euro is making it difficult to compete against the likes of Ireland and Poland where producer prices are much lower.
While we continue to experience difficulties with local processors on current prices, ultimately getting access to new markets is in the best interest of all of us. There is agreement with processors that access to other global markets is needed quicker and while it is acknowledged that the DARD staff tasked with this job are doing as much as they can, there are question marks over the level of resources which are being made available in both local Government and at a UK Government level to engage in this task.
Out of all the UK regions Northern Ireland is the most heavily reliant on exports and it is crucial that both our MLAs and MPs guarantee that the maximum level of resources are made available to open markets outside the Eurozone which can ultimately be to the benefit of the whole agri-food industry and the wider local economy.