Improved integration will be at the heart of the response from the beef and sheep sectors to the challenge of Brexit, according to Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chairman Gerard McGivern.
And he was quick to point out that LMC will be at the very heart of the process.
“Prior to Christmas we met with a number of processors and the Ulster Farmers’ Union, on an individual basis,” explained Mr McGivern.
“And this work will continue as we move into the New Year. The outcome of these discussions will be built into our business plan for 2018.”
Mr McGivern believes that Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep sectors can look forward to a sustainable future.
“Securing new markets is vitally important,” he said.
“But building on the market share that our red meat processors already enjoy in the UK is just as significant.
“Our unique selling point, where both these matters are concerned, is the proven track record of the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme, or FQAS.
“Farmers now fully value the benefits which the quality assurance scheme is delivering for them. And it will be further developed, with the support of producers, as we move into 2018.”
Mr McGivern cited improvements to on-farm, animal health planning criteria as one of the most important changes to be included within the updated FQAS, adding.
“All of the FQAS changes will be implemented at the beginning of June next year.”
He also pointed to the important work carried out by LMC for which the organisation does not receive direct recognition.
“These include the co-ordination of the BVD PI Removal Incentivisation scheme,” he said.
“To date this measure has led to the prompt removal of 800 BVD-infected animals.”
Mr McGivern also highlighted the key role played by LMC in helping Northern Ireland secure BSE Negligible Status.
“The Commission paid the fee that accompanied the submission, requesting the upgraded BSE status for Northern Ireland
“But more than that, LMC staff played a key role in developing the overall submission that was presented to the World Organisation for Animal Health on behalf of the local beef industry.”
Turning to Brexit, McGivern confirmed LMC’s role in helping to commission three major reports on the issue during 2017.
“Our commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland secures the best Brexit deal possible goes without saying.
“Developing new trading relationships with the rest of the world will be critical as will be the maintenance of our existing customer base. And, as I keep saying, this is why FQAS will play such an important role moving forward. It, truly, is the asset that sets us apart from the rest of the world.”
Other priorities for LMC in 2018 will include that of profiling the nutritional and health benefits both beef and lamb offer, when included as part of a healthy diet.
“I am mindful of the speech given by University College Dublin’s Professor Patrick Wall at the recent FQAS 25th anniversary dinner, during which he pointed out that beef and sheep producers are actually in the health business.
“With this theme very much in mind, we are currently working on a number of new promotional campaigns, which highlight the tremendously positive nutritional benefits associated with the inclusion of beef and lamb in a healthy diet.”
Mr McGivern concluded:
“One of the big positives of 2017 was the series of walk-the-line events, organised by LMC staff,” he said.
“These provided farmers with the opportunity to see, at first hand, how their finished animals were processed and the market challenges which confront processors on a daily basis.
“This work will be built-on significantly in 2018.”