Some thoughts on branding

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Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) seeds and cereals committee chairman Mark McCollum has highlighted the need for local consumers to actively select home-grown grains and protein products.

And the same principle holds where livestock farmers are concerned.

I heartily agree with the principle espoused by the UFU representative. But, I fear, that we are starting-off from a low base – where these matters are concerned.

But this is not the fault of consumers here in Northern Ireland.

Farming Life commentFarming Life comment
Farming Life comment

I was told recently that the Nestlé brand is worth US$100 billion in terms of its annual turnover. So there must be money in adding value.

But, unfortunately, very little of this seems to come back down the line to farmers in this part of the world.

Over the past few months I have attended numerous conferences, themed to look at the prospects for agriculture in Northern Ireland over the next few years.

These events put their finger on an issue that goes to the very heart of the challenge facing agriculture in Northern Ireland.

And it is now becoming apparent that local farmers produce a ‘unique, generic food brand’, which they do not get paid enough for.

The attributes of the brand include eating quality in tandem with the highest possible environmental protection and animal welfare standards.

In a perfect world, locally produced food should be allowed to stand out from those imported products, which UK retailers procure in more than significant quantities.

The reality, however, is that this is rarely the case, thereby leaving farmers in Northern Ireland unable to secure the premium return they really need to justify the significant investment they continue to make in their businesses.

The reality is that local producers have invested £millions of their own money to meet – and in many cases – surpass the management standards demanded by the UK supermarkets.

Yes, these same retailers do buy significant quantities of food produced in Northern Ireland. But the prices they pay farmers just don’t stack up!

Retailers are quick to tell consumers about their commitment to locally produced food. And the reality is that they know exactly how much it is costing farmers across Northern Ireland to produce it.

Retailers will also know that feed, fuel and fertiliser costs are rocketing upwards at the present time.

Significantly, it is these very same challenges that are now pushing up food production costs throughout the UK and beyond.

The days of cheap food are over and it’s time for retailers to recognise this, ensuring that agriculture in Northern Ireland is put on a sustainable basis for the future.